Let the market decide
By Mark Reaman
In what was an obviously difficult decision for Crested Butte Town Council members, the board voted 5-1 to allow Clark’s Market to obtain a fermented malt beverage (3.2% beer) liquor license. The move will basically allow the grocery to sell full-strength beer starting January 1 when 3.2% beer is eliminated in Colorado. This upset local liquor store owners.
Clark’s used to have such a beer license but Tom Clark told the council on Monday they gave it up after liquor sales were permitted on Sundays. He said their beer sales dropped off a cliff.
“We feel choice is good and the marketplace votes with dollars,” Clark said. “Every grocery store in Colorado will be offering this soon.”
Peter Cook of Acme Liquor Store, located right next to Clark’s, said it was obvious the grocery was just setting itself up to gain the benefit of selling full-strength beer starting in January. “It will cut into the sales of the three existing liquor stores in Crested Butte and the others in Crested Butte South and Mt. Crested Butte,” Cook told the council. “The intent of the law originally was to protect and soften the blow to the ‘mom-and-pop’ stores, but this move goes against that.”
While Clark gave the council a petition with 63 names supporting the Clark’s request, Cook presented the council with a petition containing nearly 400 physical and online names opposed to the request. “People favor the mom-and-pop establishments instead of the chains,” he said, stating that supporting mom and pop stores was one way to maintain Crested Butte soul and “keep it cool.”
Tracy Hastings of Treasury Liquors in Mt. Crested Butte agreed. “It is important. It won’t bring in any more revenue. It will just split up the revenue already there,” she said. “Of the five liquor stores located north of Crested Butte South, three are full-on mom-and-pop stores. We have kids in school here. We run the store to pay for dance and sports and school activities. There is no benefit to issuing another liquor license at this time.”
Scott Strauss of The Wine House said there are many second homeowners and visitors who enjoy the vibe of a locally owned, small liquor store. He said they won’t get that interaction in a bigger grocery store chain.
“We don’t consider ourselves a chain,” responded Clark, whose family owns nine grocery stores. “We are based 35 miles from here [in Aspen]. We too are a mom-and-pop business. Choice is great and we think it will be an asset to town. The people on the petition will spend money in the liquor stores. That’s fine.”
Town attorney Barbara Green told the council members their charge was to determine whether the request met the reasonable requirements and desires of the neighborhood.
Councilman Chris Haver suggested gathering more information and continuing the matter to a council meeting in September.
“I’m a little torn,” admitted councilman Kent Cowherd. “I am kind of leaning toward what we are legally bound to do—which is approve it if all the paperwork is in order.”
“I’m looking for more clarification,” said Haver. “I see the two petitions and I see where the community voice is speaking up, but I still want more clarification.”
Citizen David Leinsdorf said he had patronized all of the local liquor stores as well as Clark’s and Mountain Earth groceries. “It is important to support local food stores,” he said. “If selling beer helps the financial viability of the food stores in the valley, then I am in support of this request. The council has never denied a liquor license and I think having food stores up here is more important than liquor stores.”
“They are both important,” countered Hastings.
“There are 53 liquor licenses in Crested Butte right now,” noted councilman Will Dujardin. “People can find liquor here. I respect the fact that the market determines where people spend their money. I am less inclined to not approve than some others I’m hearing.”
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell moved to approve the liquor license request for Clark’s Market and the measure passed 5-1, with councilman Jackson Petito voting no. Councilman Paul Merck was not at the meeting.