Biz owners proposing changes to Utah liquor agency

Jan 27 2012 - 3:01pm

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Sales Clerk Craig Roberts stocks the shelves from behind at the State Liquor Store on 2nd street in Ogden Thursday August 10, 2006. Alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular in Utah as state demographics change sales in liquor stores have nearly doubled in the last decade. (Standard Examiner Photo/ Robert Johnson)
Sales Clerk Craig Roberts stocks the shelves from behind at the State Liquor Store on 2nd street in Ogden Thursday August 10, 2006. Alcoholic beverages are becoming more popular in Utah as state demographics change sales in liquor stores have nearly doubled in the last decade. (Standard Examiner Photo/ Robert Johnson)

SALT LAKE CITY -- When David Cole decided to open a Salt Lake City microbrewery, Utah regulators required him to build the brewing facility before they would give him a liquor license.

Cole had to invest significant capital into Epic Brewing with no assurances he could ever make the beer. While the state did eventually give its approval, Cole said it illustrated the burdensome nature of Utah's liquor laws.

Cole is part of a group of bar, restaurant and ski resort owners that issued recommendations Friday to put more flexibility in Utah's liquor regulations. The group was organized by Democratic legislative leaders as a way to bring new voices to a debate that is often driven by Republican lawmakers who abstain from alcohol because of their Mormon faith. 

The recommendations focus on the management of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which has come under fire from lawmakers after a series of negative audits.

Among the recommended changes is a loosening of the licensing regulations, especially for bars. The groups said existing quotas makes it nearly impossible for a bar to get a license from the state. Businesses that already have liquor licenses can sell them, but it can be cost-prohibitive for a small-business owner to purchase one on the private market.

The group doesn't support the privatization of liquor stores, which is one of the proposals being discussed by legislators. Instead, they urged the state to hire a retail manager to improve the performance of stores. The additional revenues could then be used to boost funding for programs aimed at curbing underage drinking and drunk driving.

Although the recommendations focused on administrative issues, Cole said the confusing laws reinforce the perception of Utah as a difficult place to get a drink.

The best thing the Legislature could do is give business owners more freedom, said Scott Evans, who owns Pago restaurant in Salt Lake City.

"We need responsible changes to the laws that allow for innovation and help grow businesses," Evans said.

 

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