When the ban on grocery stores selling wine ended on March 1 following a successful statewide ballot initiative, wine bottles popped up overnight in most of Boulder’s 15 chain grocery stores.
And independent, local liquor stores felt the effect almost instantly.
“Wine took a 35% hit, right out the gate,” said Matt Modrzejewski, general manager at Superior Liquor Market.
The downward sales trend continued through April, he said, along with decreased beer and liquor sales. “Everything is affected because traffic is down.”
Superior Liquor Market is not alone. “April wine sales have been incredibly slow,” Sarah Jarrach, owner of B Town Wine + Spirits in East Boulder, told Boulder Reporting Lab at the end of last month.
At B Town, one of about 20 liquor stores in the city, Easter typically kicks off its busier summer season. “That didn’t quite happen to the extent that we’re used to,” Jarrach said. “I’m not panicking yet, but if it’s like this in four months, I will definitely start panicking.”
Since Prop 125 — the ballot measure that passed last November by about 1% of the vote — went into effect, more people seem to be buying wine at grocery stores, presumably because it’s convenient to shop at one location for food and drink. (City of Boulder staff told city council last week they have not analyzed the impact of the change.) Some smaller liquor stores were already preparing for this outcome. Leading up to March 1, they started playing up products that grocery store chains don’t provide.
A similar decline in sales happened in 2019, after legislation passed allowing grocery stores to start selling beer stronger than 4% alcohol by volume. Because of that, “we were [feeling] dreadful about what was going to happen when wine went in” grocery stores, Modrzejewski said.
To compensate for its loss in beer sales back then, Superior Liquor Market highlighted craft breweries with displays throughout the store. And because it was Covid, it upgraded service by providing heaters for those waiting in line outdoors.
“We were kind of on the forefront in our local neighborhood as far as trying to make it as safe for people to be in here as possible,” Modrzejewski said. Since then, beer sales have nearly bounced back to 2018 numbers, he said.
Both Modrzejewski and Jarrach remain optimistic that their continued curated selections of beer and wine — featuring smaller and local companies that many chain grocery stores don’t carry — and better customer service will help wine sales bounce back.
“Eventually, the dust will settle. It will stop being so shiny and new,” Modrzejewski said of wine in grocery stores. “When you’re tired of the $5 Kirkland wine and want to go back to that $10 Freeland Pinot Gris that you really liked — but they don’t have — that’s what will end up making the difference in the long run.”
But Modrzejewski isn’t relying on that alone. He said he’s also contemplating other streams of revenue, like selling food pairings, last-minute camping items and firewood.
Meanwhile, Jarrach worries that if more customers choose to buy their wine and beer from chain stores, it could have broader consequences for the local business ecosystem.
B Town has carried Uhl’s Brewing Company, a brewery in East Boulder, for instance, since owner Aaron Uhl started making its beer while renting space out of Sanitas Brewing Co.
“We support other small businesses, and that’s what makes Colorado so special,” said Jarrach, who largely buys from family-owned companies with smaller production. “We wouldn’t have all these distilleries, cool breweries and the amount of amazing wine we have if it was all grocery. I just hope that doesn’t get lost.”
“So many different breweries and distilleries wouldn’t be around if they didn’t have small liquor stores backing them from day one,” Jarrach said. “We all support each other and we’re willing to give people a chance. Grocery stores are just never going to do that.”
B Town also prioritizes service by connecting with its customers. Jarrach, who has worked in liquor stores for nine years and studied wine for 13, tries to make wine more accessible by organizing tastings at the store and writing a monthly newsletter that includes a list of her favorite wines. She stashes Dum Dums behind the counter for kids visiting B Town with their parents. She is concerned about the loss of a community hub.
“We know the names of 80% of the people who walk in the door,” Jarrach said. “We know we’re a part of the community. We’re not just a soulless, corporate entity. We know what you did last weekend, when your daughter’s getting married, and your dog’s name. We’re a part of your life.”
“I’ve poured a lot of love into this store,” Jarrach added. “You’re never going to get that with grocery.”
The other side of this is many consumers are saving money on their wine purchases and have increased accessibility.
I don’t mean to be critical of your reporting (I’m happy you’re doing it) but wouldn’t talking to a few stores actually IN Boulder (Brett at Bldr Wine Merch or the folks at N. Bldr Liquors, or even local giant Hazel’s) give a more nuanced summary of the effect of Prop. 125? Meanwhile, thank you for the job you (all) are doing. Michael Ehlers in Bou lder.
Leave a comment