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Bottles of alcohol at Morgans Liquor at 1200 E. Evans Ave. on January 11, 2021 in Denver, Colorado. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
If there’s one thing Colorado has a lot of, it’s liquor stores. There are more than 1,500 in the state.
And state Sen. Kevin Priola sees them as a way to help eliminate a stubborn problem that plagues both inner-city Colorado neighborhoods and rural parts of the state: food deserts, areas where people have little or no access to nutritious food .
“There are many parts of the inner city of the state, as well as rural areas of the state, where there are no grocery stores for miles and miles,” said the Republican lawmaker from Henderson. “But liquor stores are everywhere.”
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Priola teamed up with state Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Morrison, to introduce Senate Bill 33 at the Colorado Capitol this year, which would exempt fruits, vegetables, nuts and meat, as long as they are not “substantially.” processed form: From a state mandate that non-alcoholic products cannot exceed 20% of a liquor store’s sales.
The goal is simple: give liquor stores the option to become a place where their customers can pick up brandy as much as broccoli, whiskey and watermelon, scotch and salmon.
Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, listen to Senate Health and Human Services Committee debate on a bill that would change Colorado’s vaccine exemption rules on Wednesday, February 19 of 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
There is no agreement on what exactly constitutes a food desert. One definition is an urban area where someone cannot walk to a store that offers fresh food within 10 minutes, or a rural area where fresh food is more than 10 kilometers away.
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In Denver, the Elyria-Swansea and College View neighborhoods have been identified as food deserts. Large swaths of the San Luis Valley and Baca, Bent, Prowers and Yuma counties have also been called food deserts. Both are areas that have liquor stores.
Liquor stores don’t think the legislation is a shot worth taking — at least not now — and that could doom the move.
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They argue the bill could alter a complicated 2016 deal they made with grocers, called “the grand compromise,” that dramatically changed where whole beer can be sold in Colorado. And fresh food is not an area where they see a profit potential.
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“This is just the wrong answer,” said Chris Fine, the executive director of the Colorado Licensed Beverage Association, which opposes the measure. “The reason liquor stores don’t sell those products is because it doesn’t work with our business model. They don’t have the storage to store these things. It’s just not practical.”
Fine also notes that liquor stores are prohibited from accepting food stamps. Finally, he is concerned that the bill will only benefit a few liquor stores and could create more competition for his members by encouraging butchers and specialty grocers to obtain a liquor license.
The bottom line, Fine says, is that liquor stores aren’t the solution Priola may be looking for.
Sen. Robert Rodriguez, D-Denver who is chairman of the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee, where House Bill 33 was assigned, did not respond to a request for comment on the bill. But the committee’s vice chairman, Sen. James Coleman, another Denver Democrat, worries the legislation isn’t the right approach.
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“I’m not opposed to the bill, but I don’t think it will solve the problem,” he said. “I think the real solution is to build in some healthy options.”
The Colorado Wine and Spirits Wholesalers and the Colorado Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents convenience stores, are so far taking a neutral stance on the measure, state lobbying disclosures indicate.
Priola said she has spoken with Healthier Colorado, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger, Hunger Free Colorado and Nourish Colorado about Senate Bill 33, but there are no lobbying groups for advocacy groups working in food deserts or related matters. support or oppose the measure. This may be a sign that Senate Bill 33 is not something they feel strongly about.
Representatives for Healthier Colorado, Hunger Free Colorado and Nourish Colorado did not respond to requests for comment Monday or declined to comment.
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“I’m a little surprised that there’s so much opposition,” said Cutter, the Democratic sponsor of the measure. “I signed up because it’s a creative approach.”
Michele Joyce, an employee of Annie Oakley’s Grocery and Liquor Store, takes a smoke break in the doorway on Main Street in Central City on April 27, 2020. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)
Priola said the detractors of the alcohol industry are people who don’t want to upset the “apple cart of a deal that was cut six years ago.” And he fully acknowledges that every liquor store in the state is unlikely to take advantage of the policy change if it somehow clears the big hurdles ahead.
He thinks Denver’s Montbello neighborhood, which was labeled a food desert several years ago, is a perfect example of where his bill could be useful. There are only one or two grocery stores but several liquor stores.
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The Colorado Sun — jesse@ Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor for The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is… More by Jesse PaulTexas is the second largest state in the United States of America. The state has the longest stretch of border with Mexico. The entire border is demarcated by a river, the Rio Grande, and borders four Mexican states: Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Chihuahua and Coahuila. Thousands of families share relatives on both sides of the border. Part of the appeal of Texas is its Mexican culture. As of 2021, it was second only to California in the size of its Latino population and in the importation of tequila. These factors make it a great state to enjoy agave spirits. Texas is also an attractive state for mezcal entrepreneurs, including brands, importers, mezcal bars and aficionados to review websites. Jonny and I may never have launched Mezcal Reviews in 2016 if we hadn’t lived in Austin, Texas, a mezcal mecca in many ways.
That said, it’s important to note that “business-friendly” Texas isn’t exactly the friendliest for the alcohol business. Alcohol in the state is overseen by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, or TABC, a public agency responsible for regulating, inspecting and taxing the production, sale and use of alcoholic beverages within Texas. You’ll often find TABC’s ugly government stickers stuck to the front of Mezcalosphere’s beautiful labels, obscuring production details. In Texas, you can’t buy liquor on Sundays – go to church! Liquor can’t even be shipped across county lines. So if you live in Austin but discover a good bottle at Pogo’s in Dallas, you’ll have to make a three-hour drive down I-35 to retrieve it yourself. Despite all that red tape, Texas is still a great place to find agave spirits. Might be for the best if we can’t order them online too…gotta save some money for retirement.
Let’s go in alphabetical order but also…why not start with the best city in Texas?! If you want to drink before you shop, check out our Where to Drink Mezcal in Austin blog.
This boutique liquor store founded by former bartenders quickly grew to three locations. The Pleasant Valley location is convenient and may have the largest selection. Ask for Paul who can recommend the perfect bottle (or six) based on your experience and taste preferences.
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This reliable and friendly shop on South Lamar used to house its mezcal collection behind glass in a tall cabinet. Since 2019 or so, the agave collection has moved from front to center as you enter the store with shelves surrounding the checkout counter. Go on mezcal Mondays with a 10% discount!
Inventory on the website? yes and no They have online inventory that is available for delivery, but some of their smaller batch bottles may not be listed.
As of this writing, AB Liquor #2 is relatively new to the scene. Their impressive selection (pictured in the main article image) is full of nice finds. However, some of their prices are a bit puzzling. For example, $269.99 for a bottle of El Jolgorio Arroqueño.
“Wine Merchant” as we call it was one of the original places we visited to build our mezcal
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