Utah exhausts quota for bar liquor licenses

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) --Utah has exhausted its quota of liquor licenses for full-service bars, but one may come available next month based on population growth.

Utah limits the number of liquor licenses it issues based on the state's population, one per 7,850 people for bars.

Liquor-control commissioners turned away owners of three bars last week who were seeking to serve more than just beer.

One commissioner, Park City lawyer Gordon Strachan, said each applicant was deserving of a full liquor license, "but we've used up all licenses that the Legislature has authorized. We can't grant any more."

Some of the bar owners said they had sunk their life savings into renovations hoping for a full liquor license.

"I don't know what we're going to do or how we'll compete," said Jeff Socwell, 50, an owner of Top Shelf Sports bar in Ogden. "We had no reason to think we wouldn't get a license, since we had done everything we needed to do."

For bar owners who want a license, their only hope until the population grows is for another bar to have their license revoked or for one to go out of business.

Socwell said he knew there were a limited number of club licenses, but staff from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control assured him that they would be given priority because they had a full-service restaurant license that allowed them to serve all types of alcohol as long as diners ordered a meal.

But rather than renew their restaurant license last month, they opted to wait a few weeks to get a club license. They would have used the restaurant license for only a month, until they could get a club license, which costs $2,500.

A club license would allow them to serve alcohol, with or without a customer ordering food.

Now, the only alcohol they can serve is beer. Utah doesn't limit beer permits based on the state's population.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he fears that the limited number of licenses is evidence that the state may have loosened its liquor laws too much this year. Valentine sponsored legislation earlier this year that did away with membership requirements and fees patrons had to pay before they could order a drink.

"I don't think we'll see the Legislature repealing caps on liquor licenses," he said. "I haven't seen a demand for liquor licenses to increase outside the scope of the population formula until now. It appears the demand for licenses is growing, and that is a cause for concern."

However, state statistics show liquor sales to bars in July and August have declined by $243,00, or 9.2 percent, when compared with the same period last year.

Those numbers run contrary to results at state-controlled liquor stores, where sales have climbed by $1.3 million, for a 3 percent increase during the same two-month comparison, according to a DABC report.


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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