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Frustrated by long lines, Utah’s Senate Minority Leader says build more liquor stores

Posted at 3:38 PM, Dec 24, 2019

WEST VALLEY CITY -- The photo shared with her by a constituent did not make Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne happy.

"I had a picture from one of my constituents that showed me lines with a hundred people," she told FOX 13. "We can’t continue to do this."

She shared the photo on Twitter, arguing that the state of Utah ought to build more liquor stores to keep up with demand. It generated quite a bit of buzz on Christmas Eve, as people shared stories of braving long lines or complained about wine and spirits not being sold in grocery and convenience stores.

"With the new tax reform, those moneys from the liquor sales are going to go in the general fund. If we’re going to run a business like we should, then we need to have more stores, we have to be consumer friendly," Sen. Mayne, D-West Valley City, said as she stood outside a liquor store in Kearns. "They’re giving us a ton of money."

DABC store lines

Customers wait in line to check out at a DABC store on Dec. 24, 2019. (Image by Sam Goodman, FOX 13 News)

This time of year is the busiest for state-run liquor stores, so much so that even front office staff at the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control are drafted to bag and box bottles for customers. The agency make millions each day.

For the cynical, long lines at state-run liquor stores are almost a holiday tradition. People wait until just before Thanksgiving or Christmas to stock up on wine or spirits. Lines stretch through aisles to check out. Often, the fire marshal limits who can go in a store so lines stretch around the building just to get in.

People FOX 13 spoke with at the downtown and Cottonwood Heights stores praised DABC employees for getting them in and out as quickly as possible, but did say they waited a minimum of 10 minutes to check out.

For the Senate Minority Leader, the state could do better.

"We make millions and millions of dollars from that. I think we need to be responsive if we’re going to do that," Sen. Mayne said. "If we’re not going to take care of the needs of our consumers and build appropriate stores, then put it in the private sector."

Being one of 17 liquor control states, Utah exercises some of the most restrictive alcohol laws in the nation based on a "temperance" model where alcohol is supplied and sold, but not promoted. Some on Capitol Hill have argued against privatization, saying it would result in tax hikes as well as raising societal concerns about drinking (the majority population of Utah are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who do not imbibe).

The DABC conducted a study in 2013 that found it could add a dozen more stores along the Wasatch Front just to keep up with consumer demand. DABC deputy director Cade Meier told FOX 13 they are working to build more stores. Construction will be completed in late 2020 for new stores in Farmington and Saratoga Springs.

Additionally, the state is looking to relocate its downtown store to a bigger location and remodel its Foothill location to expand in Salt Lake City. There are also plans for a Taylorsville store and relocating a West Valley City store. The agency is also pursuing land for new stores in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, the east side of Sandy, Park City and Ogden.

Sen. Karen Mayne

Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, speaks to FOX 13's Ben Winslow outside the Kearns liquor store on Dec. 24, 2019. (Image by Dario Jokic, FOX 13 News)

The DABC is close to making a half-billion for the state. Any new stores are funded by the Utah State Legislature, and Sen. Mayne said she intended to encourage her legislative colleagues to appropriately fund it.

Meier said the agency's legislative priorities are "increased pay, additional store hours and building more stores."

The Senate Minority Leader suggested those are her priorities, too.

"I have passed legislation in years past to make sure these people are paid the appropriate amount. This is a hard job and we work them hard, lots of long hours," she said. "We need to have a good business practice and we need to take care of the consumer. That’s our job. That’s why they elected us."