SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's alcohol control authority reported over $517 million in liquor sales last year, setting a new record even in a global pandemic.
The numbers, presented to the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Tuesday, show that people didn't stop buying alcohol when bars and restaurants were closed in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The DABC reported 4.6 million fewer bottles sold last year. Some of that is attributed to a law change that moved heavier beers out of state-run liquor stores and into grocery and convenience stores. But the DABC reported increase of $17,193,191 in retail sales over the previous year. Some of that is attributed to Utahns and tourists buying "better booze."
Commission Chair Thomas Jacobson asked if it was because of tourists or locals buying more alcohol. Sean Williford, the DABC's financial director, said they could not parse that because both eat at restaurants and visit bars and shop at state-run liquor stores.
But if the trend continues, with bars and restaurants reopening and tourism growing in Utah, the state was on track to be even more profitable in 2022, he told the commission.
But Utah's restaurant industry has taken a hit. Melva Sine, the head of the Utah Restaurant Association, briefed the commission on the impacts of COVID-19 on the industry. During the pandemic, which started in March 2020, they recorded a loss of 434 restaurants statewide (out of 5,324). Restaurants have also seen a lot of employees leave from a high of 111,000 employees in the service industry in January of 2020 to about 63,000 now, Sine said.
"The jobs are here. Except for the restaurants that we’ve lost, but we are seeing restaurants rebound and the jobs are there. They’re available. But there are restaurants now who are only open four days week because they can’t get employees to stay open that other three days or they’re not staying open until 10 o’clock at night," she told FOX 13.