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DENVER -- Colorado convenience stores are closer than ever to being able to sell full-strength beer, according to The Denver Post.
Earlier this week, House Bill 1186 passed on a 7-4 bipartisan vote, the first time any recent bill to expand beer sales passed committee, according to the report.
Hours of debate centered mostly on long-standing worries about market fairness and competition, which have pitted convenience stores against liquor shops for three years. Some lawmakers and community activists also winced at the dangers of allowing 18-year-old clerks to handle high-alcohol beer.
Rules allowing convenience stores to sell only low-alcohol, 3.2-percent beer -- once legal for 18- to 20-year-olds -- also limit shoppers, bill sponsor Republican Representative Larry Liston said.
"We can't keep just saying no, no, never," Liston said. "I hear from a lot of people who say, 'How come we can't get beer?' ... We really don't have a good answer."
The bill would not only allow gas stations and corner stores to sell full-strength beer, but also allow liquor shops to sell snacks and non-perishable food items. The bill doesn't include supermarkets, a factor Liston thinks helped his case.
Brewers and liquor stores teamed up Wednesday night against the bill, arguing convenience stores are more likely to stock mass-produced beers than locally made craft brews.
Convenience stores promised they were eager to put a higher-quality selection in their coolers. They said they are still reeling from 2008 rules that allowed liquor stores to remain open on Sundays. The move cut demand for 3.2 beer.
An operator of one of the larger convenience-store chains, Buzz Calkins, said beer once made up about 10 percent of sales in his 40 Colorado stores. Now, beer accounts for approximately 1 percent, he said.
"Liquor stores were given the ability to sell on Sundays," Calkins said. "We ask to be able to compete on a level field."
Convenience stores -- more than 2,000 in the state -- estimate they've lost $40,000 a year per store in both beer sales and the snack sales that once accompanied them.
But the state's 1,600 liquor stores counter that name-brand gas stations and convenience stores such as Circle K and Loaf 'N Jug have the benefit of owning multiple stores and corporate backing for promotion and advertising.
They estimate 300 liquor stores could close as a result of the bill.
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