Business Monday: Beer license for Clark’s Market on ice
If you go to Clark’s Market in Aspen looking to buy some beer these days, you’ll need to look somewhere else.
An order delivered July 14 by Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin found that the Local Licensing Authority’s vote to bless the Aspen supermarket’s liquor license application was “tainted” because it has a blanket-approval process.
Since that ruling, the grocer’s beer coolers have remained stocked but off limits to the public.
“Due to technical difficulties with our liquor license,” says a sign in the store, “we are unable to sell any beer or malted liquor. So sorry for the inconvenience.”
Clark’s Market now must repeat the liquor license approval process with the LLA to sell beer again. A hearing before the LLA is set Oct. 6.
The judge’s ruling was a victory for Aspen Wine & Spirits, which sued its neighbor Clark’s Market in September 2018, one month after the LLA voted to allow the grocery to sell full-strength beer starting Jan. 1, 2019. That date marked the debut of a Colorado law allowing existing grocers and convenience stores to sell the same-strength beer offered by liquor stores.
Seldin agreed with the argument from Aspen Wine & Spirits that the LLA approved Clark’s’ liquor license application without the proper scrutiny, relying on a statement from LLA chairman Bill Murphy, who said on the day of the August 2018 vote, “We’ve never in the past denied somebody a license because it’s been perceived that the desires of the neighborhood haven’t been met, because we don’t know that.”
A second LLA member, Phil Golden, agreed with Murphy’s notion, which Seldin concluded tainted the outcome of the vote.
“The vote here was 4 to 1. Thus, if the illegal policy tainted two votes, it affected the outcome,” Seldin’s order said. “The record demonstrates two votes were, in fact, so tainted. The city itself does not dispute that the illegal policy tainted chairman Murphy’s vote.”
A rubber-stamp policy violates Colorado law that says a licensing authority must weigh the needs of the immediate neighborhood before granting a liquor license.
“Consequently, the record supports the conclusion, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the illegal policy tainted the outcome here,” Seldin’s opinion said.
Two claims remain in Seldin’s court.
One claim seeks a judgment determining that the city has an unlawful policy of approving all liquor license applications, and that Clark’s failed to demonstrate to the LLA that its neighborhood’s desires were met.
And a breach-of-contract alleges that Clark’s Market had a lease agreement from January 2000 giving Aspen Wine & Spirits exclusive rights to sell full-strength beer from the shopping complex.
Seldin on Aug. 13 also denied a motion by Clark’s to have the license reinstated.
“Clark’s is unable to exercise its rights under its previously issued liquor license, and is losing out on sales daily,” its law firm Hoskin Farina & Kampf argued in a July 28 pleading.
The city of Aspen also is a defendant in the suit. Mediation is scheduled Sept. 22, according to court documents.
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