On mixing brussels sprouts with Displays for my favorite chardonay

Back in the old days when I ran the local newspapers we frequently ran shop at home campaigns that, through a series of ads and perhaps a news story or two, urged people to shop at home.

These campaigns had varying levels of success.

What we meant in these campaigns was that county residents should try their best to buy stuff locally when it was at all possible. The thinking was that every dollar spent locally recycles through the local economy and “keeps the dollars at home” or the “keep your bucks at home” backed by a male deer with antlers visual.

Although I never saw the objective, empirical, double-blind study that proved this, the assertion was that every single dollar spent in a locally owned business gets recirculated in the local economy seven times, assuming, of course, that it gets recirculated locally and doesn’t immediately get spent at the nearest Walmart.

The shop at home enthusiasm among some local merchants has resurfaced again in one particular class of businesses: liquor stores. That’s because a law that went on the books in 2023 allowed grocery stores and some similar sorts of stores to sell wine as well as beer.

This was an especially devastating law for local liquor store owners because for many, many years the only place a person could buy a bottle of wine was at a liquor store. Back then, only just two years ago, there weren’t entire aisles in your friendly grocery store stocked and padded with a wide variety of wines, sparkling wines and Champagnes.

A person could buy a six-pack of beer in a grocery store back then, but not wine.

That all changed when the voters approved, through a ballot initiative, the legalization of the sale of wine in grocery stores, based mainly on the argument that it would be more convenient for shoppers to pick up a case or bottle of wine when they were also stopping by the store to buy a head of lettuce or pick up a prescription.

Is it convenient? Yes. It is better for our local economy? I would venture to say probably not. But even more telling, wine is frequently the highest-marked-up product in most liquor stores. No wonder the grocery store chain behemoths lobbied to get the question on the ballot, time and time again. The numbers coming in now show that 60% of the wine revenue in the last year is going to these massive chain stores.

With wine, we should keep our dollars at home. Here’s why. Those dollars spent on a bottle of wine at the two large grocery stores in Grand County (Safeway and City Market) don’t entirely end up back in the local economy. Yes, maybe a new employee was hired to handle the added wine division, but I’m pretty sure that the net gain after local wages to the local economy has been minimal. That’s because profits and margins on wine sales go back to corporate behemoths and not into the pockets of small entrepreneurs here in the county.

I was given the chance to look at the numbers at one local liquor store relating to wine sales since the new wine-in-grocery-stores law took effect and there was a drop in 2023 for wine sales when compared to 2022. The drop at this one store was 20% in wine sales. Ouch.

But this one store owner was clear. He didn’t want to sound like he was w(h)ining or complaining because liquor stores are in a regulated industry where changes in the law, and not necessarily the pure market, can have major impacts. The wine law change was one of those.

He was simply urging, as he was sure other small mom-and-pop liquor stores were too, that consumers think twice before making that easy and convenient wine purchase while wandering around the grocery store looking for chestnuts. The local liquor stores might not have chestnuts, but they do have wine. Lots of it.

Of course I have another pet peeve about all this wine we have in our grocery stores now. As if it’s not enough to devote an entire aisle to wine it appears the corporate-product-placement and retail-stocking gurus at these massive grocery stores have decided that clever placement of wine throughout the grocery store might just stimulate yet more wine sales not likely to take place at a small mom-and-pop grocery store.

You know what I mean. There are racks of wine displays of fruity chardonnays mixed in surreptitiously in the baked goods aisle, only to be matched by the unique displays for exotic sparkling wines like Asti-Spumante (of which I am a big fan) sneakily placed just at the edge of the meat and fish department.

I won’t be surprised if someday I’m looking for a tube of toothpaste only to find a counter of Pinot Grigio and other Italian varietals enticingly placed among the dental hygiene products. This would reflect the enticement of impulse shopping at its best.

And then there are these rumors I keep hearing of how easy it is for underage drinkers to sneak out with wine at these larger, busy establishments. That’s not so great.

So buy wine locally if you can. At least in these local stores you won’t find brussels sprouts and shaving cream racks blocking access to your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon.

Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He offers free and confidential business management coaching to anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached by calling 970-531-0632 or at patrickbrower@kapoks.org.

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