On the last day of the legislative session lawmakers passed a bill that would expand grocery store liquor sales over time. It still needs the governor's signature but lawmakers expect the measure will receive his approval.
Once signed it would allow grocery stores to begin selling full-strength beer, wine and liquor at two additional locations in 2017. Currently grocery stores are only allowed to sell beer that is 3.2 percent alcohol by weight.
There's a catch, in order for a grocery store to sell liquor it has to buy up two liquor licenses. If a liquor store is located within 1,500 feet of the grocery store, then the grocer would have to buy that business out.
Lawmakers say the distance provision is designed to protect small mom-and-pop shops, many of which are located in the same shopping centers as big name grocery stores. Instead the grocery store expansion would be phased in over the next 20 years.
"We’re trying to bring a truce to what has been a long long running war," said state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.
The owner of Grapes and Grains liquor store, at 2780 S. Colorado Blvd. in Denver, has been watching that battle unfold knowing his family business is hanging in the balance. His store is located right by a King Soopers and he doesn't want to sell out.
"We’ve been in this business for 20 years and we want to stay in it for another 20 years," said Tim Hosman, who runs Grapes and Grains with his mother.
Signs in his store let customers know how he feels about a ballot initiative that would let voters decide if more grocery stores should be allowed to sell full-strength beer and wine.
A spokesperson for Your Choice Colorado, the group behind that ballot initiative, said they are weighing legal challenges to the bill. She said the group may still go forward with its plan to take this question to the voters in November.
"We have not stopped. We’ve collected over 60,000 signatures in less than two weeks. We’re going to continue," said Georgie Aguirre-Sacasa with Your Choice Colorado.
If the ballot measure is ultimately passed by voters it would have to co-exist with the bill. Lawmakers admit they wanted to avoid the ballot initiative.
"The ballot initiative that they’ve prepared did not anticipate this new system of granting liquor licenses and they’re not going to work real well together," Steadman said.
If a grocery store is currently selling 3.2 percent beer, it could be allowed to sell full-strength beer under the bill. The lower-strength beer would be phased out by 2019.
Another key aspects of the bill would allow liquor stores to open additional locations and create small franchises.