Basalt council serves up liquor license with gusto |

Basalt council serves up liquor license with gusto

Basalt solidified its standing as the carry-out liquor capital of the Roaring Fork Valley last night.

The Town Council, sitting as the liquor licensing authority, unanimously approved a license for a new liquor store in the Willits subdivision despite claims by an opposing attorney that it would create an “undue concentration” of liquor establishments.

Mick Ireland, an attorney representing El Jebeverage landlord Jim Valerio, attempted to shame the council into denying the license for Willits Fine Wines and Distilled Spirits.

He said Basalt would have a liquor store for every 706 residents if it approved the permit. That’s higher than the resort towns of Aspen and Snowmass Village, with one liquor store per 1,203 and 1,849 residents respectively, Ireland noted. It’s also greater than the regional shopping center of Glenwood Springs, which has one liquor store per 1,162 residents, according to Ireland.

The state average in Colorado is one liquor store per 3,143 residents. Ireland warned that approving the permit would create “excess access” to alcohol and potentially spark more “violent crime.”

“It’s just common sense ” more access means more consumption,” Ireland claimed.

Basalt Police Chief Keith Ikeda disagreed with the assessment that another store would result in more crime. He disputed Ireland’s claim that an approval would spur the need for more cops.

Crowd favors market

While Ireland and El Jebeverage attorney Mark Bender attempted to sway the vote against issuing the license, roughly 20 residents spoke in favor of the proposed store.

Several speakers at the public hearing expressed support for Bob Hite, who will be the store’s managing partner. Speakers said Hite, a longtime restaurateur in the valley, does a quality job with every business endeavor he undertakes.

Hite said he plans to distinguish Willits liquors with knowledgeable, friendly service, great selections on wine and other alcohol, and pricing that might persuade valley residents not to run to Denver’s Applejack for inexpensive beverages.

Several speakers said they would welcome the competition posed to local liquor stores by the Willits establishment. Basalt resident Rob Schwener said existing stores shouldn’t be “protected” against additional competition just because times are tough.

Bruce Baldridge of Aspen Glen urged the council to “go with free enterprise over prohibition.”

“I don’t know if Bob’s going to open a fantastic liquor store or not,” said Baldridge. “If he doesn’t, he’s free to go broke.”

Jeff Orsulak of Willits said he found it ironic that Ireland, representing the interests of a landlord who capitalizes from sales of alcohol, was warning against the evils of alcohol.

“Don’t let the fox watch the hen house,” he said.

‘Cash cows’

Attorneys for both sides tried to use town sales tax figures on liquor sales to their benefit. Ireland said sales tax revenues from liquor are down 8.6 percent thus far in 2003 compared to 2002.

Gloria Deschamp, owner of El Jebel Liquor, which is outside the Basalt town limits, said her business is suffering more than it has since Mid-Continent Resources closed its Carbondale-area coal mines in the mid-1980s. She said liquor business in the El Jebel-Basalt area is off 5 to 10 percent this year.

But Lee Leavenworth, attorney for the proposed Willits store, noted that retail sales of liquor stores in Basalt have quadrupled in 10 years. Those sales have been raked in by just three stores.

With increasing sales and an increasing population, Basalt clearly has a need for another store, Leavenworth said. His expert witness ” Max Scott, who helps analyze the market for liquor stores ” said the three existing liquor stores in Basalt enjoy sales three times greater than average for their size.

“These stores are cash cows,” Scott said.

The cows are about to get sliced in more pieces. Hite said he has a tentative opening date of Dec. 17 for the Willits store.

The council voted 5-0 to approve the liquor license. Members Jacque Whitsitt and Jon Fox-Rubin didn’t attend the meeting. They participated in a board meeting of La Mision, a nonprofit newspaper targeting the valley’s Latinos.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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