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Bar alcohol sales rise 1 percent post-private clubs

Bar alcohol sales rise 1 percent post-private clubs

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Sales of alcohol in Utah bars rose 1 percent in the first year since the state eliminated its private club system.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported Thursday that sales of liquor and regular-strength beer to bars rose to $16 million since lawmakers eliminated a requirement that customers fill out an application and pay a fee for the right to enter a bar. However, that is down from $17.6 million in sales from the year before that.

Opponents of the change had warned the new rules would increase access to liquor and lead to more consumption. Bar owners say that hasn't been the case.

"Since the private club has gone away, the world hasn't ended and all our children haven't turned into delinquents but everything feels a little more normal," said David Morris, owner of the Piper Down pub in Salt Lake City.

Bar owners have reported they've seen in increase in food sales because they get more people coming in who wouldn't have bothered to pay the membership fee in the past.

More people also are drinking at home. Sales at state liquor stores have increased 4 percent in the past year.

Morris said overall business at his bar fell 7 percent since July 2009. He said people coming to his bar are buying cheaper drinks or drinking at home before going to the bar. But food sales have been stronger since the law changed.

"It used to be to buy my amazing Irish burger, which cost you like $7, it cost you an additional $5 just to get in, so you're talking a $12 burger," he said. "Now people feel more free to just wander in."

State tourism leaders say the change has also helped lure more people to the state.

"Since that time we have secured three large conventions because the meeting planner heard and experienced on a subsequent visit that it was possible to get a drink in Salt Lake," said Scott Beck, president of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, who had reservations about the liquor law changes, said things appear to have "gone according to plan."

"That was the expectation, that it would help tourism a little bit, and I'm glad to hear that's the case," he said. "We were hopeful that it would not impact negatively on sales to people because that would say we made the wrong decision, so I would say so far it's a successful experience. And I haven't heard of increased DUIs because of this."

Data on DUIs for the year won't be available for about another month.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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