Sunday booze sales boost Aspen liquor profits
September 29, 2008
ASPEN ” With two-and-a-half months of Sunday sales under their belts, local liquor store owners and managers say they think the law has boosted their profits.
In March, the Colorado Congress passed a bill, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Veiga and Rep. Cheri Jahn, to repeal Prohibition-era legislation banning the Sunday sale of alcohol. Gov. Bill Ritter signed the bill, and the law went into effect on July 1 ” making Colorado the 13th state since 2002 to repeal its so-called “blue laws.”
Ben Jenkins, communications director with the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., a trade organization representing spirits manufacturers and liquor store owners, argued in March that the law would undoubtedly benefit small business owners. He suggested ” on the basis of results from other states ” that Sunday openings could boost statewide liquor sales by as much as 8 percent, increase liquor revenue by $23 to $32 million and generate between $1.8 and $2.6 million in additional sales tax revenues.
It’s not clear yet if Colorado will realize an 8 percent increase this year from Sunday liquor sales, but it is clear that sales appear to have boosted July liquor sales in Aspen.
“From a business standpoint, I think it has been beneficial,” said Scott MacCracken, manager of Local Spirits in Aspen.
Sundays have definitely been busy enough to warrant being open, he added. And while he hadn’t yet crunched the numbers to see if business had been taken from other days, he said “on the face of it” it appears that a substantial amount of Sunday sales has been new business.
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Roger Carlsen, manager of the Grog Shop, said Sunday sales have already changed buying patterns. The store is seeing fewer customers on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but overall, he said, sales are up.
Carlsen said he has crunched the numbers, and while he declined to disclose exactly how much his overall sales were up this year over last, he confirmed that he had seen an increase, and attributed the increase to Sunday sales.
In general, he said he thinks the new law has benefited his business and his customers.
“Just overall, I think it’s good for everybody ” it makes it easier for people,” Carlsen said. Moreover, noting that many tourists fly in on Saturday or Sunday, he argued that come winter, Sunday sales will really matter.
Both Bill Carr at Airport Liquor in the Aspen Business Center and Gary Plumley, co-owner at Of Grape and Grain in Aspen, noted that while Sunday is not a huge day for them, it has been worth being open.
“They’re good ” they’re not great ” they’re good,” Carr said of the numbers.
Plumley called Sunday “interesting,” noting that there are long stretches of inactivity followed by periods when everyone comes in at once.
“It’s not a big day, but it’s OK,” Plumley said. Overall, he said Sunday sales appear to have helped Of Grape and Grain increase their business this summer over last summer.
Aspen tax revenue from July backs up the observations of liquor store representatives. In July, Aspen sales tax collections for liquor stores rose approximately $126,000, or 15 percent. By contrast, June sales tax collections on liquor fell by roughly $3,000.
And while sales tax collections for liquor have risen in July almost every year since 2003 (with the exception of 2005), last year’s July increase was only 5 percent.
“So, yeah, it is a significant enough increase that it appears something is going on,” said Larry Thoreson, the consumption tax accounting specialist for the city of Aspen.
However, several consumers visiting local liquor stores this Sunday disagreed with the idea that Sunday sales might encourage them to purchase more liquor.
After making a purchase at Carl’s Pharmacy on Sunday, Steven Davis, who was visiting Aspen from Denver, spent only a few seconds considering whether Sunday sales had made a difference in his consumption habits.
“I wouldn’t say it has at all,” he said.
Evan Boenning, of Aspen, standing outside Aspen Wine and Spirits, concurred.
“It doesn’t make a difference,” he said.
Dave Babyak, visiting Aspen from Pennsylvania ” which repealed its blue laws in 2003 ” argued that human consumption of alcohol is simply not very elastic.
“You can only drink so much, whether you buy it in seven days or six days,” he said.
As for staffing the liquor stores on Sundays, local owners and managers still are wrestling with the issue.
MacCracken, who had raised questions in March about the hassle and expense of being open on Sunday, noted that staffing the store on Sundays is a problem.
“I’ve had to work a couple of Sundays, and I don’t like that,” he said.
Carlsen said a few employees have grumbled about working Sunday afternoons, but overall everyone is adjusting. However, he said it may take the entire year to figure out exactly how to staff Sundays.
For example, the store has never been open during the football season, so he has no idea how much traffic to expect.
Plumley said he and his business partners solved the problem of Sunday staffing by having the three partners take turns. And during October and early November ” typically a low season for Aspen ” the partners plan to keep the store closed on Sundays. They’ll start Sunday sales again in mid-November or December, Plumley said.