Aspen liquor store aims to keep Clark’s Market dry
An Aspen liquor store is taking legal steps to stop a neighboring supermarket from getting into the business of selling beer.
Aspen Wine & Spirits filed a complaint after business hours Tuesday asking a Pitkin County District Court judge to vacate the Aspen Local Licensing Authority’s decision allowing Clark’s Market to sell lower strength beer with 3.2 percent alcohol content.
The 4-1 vote was made Aug. 7 and paves the way for Clark’s to sell full-strength suds Jan. 1. That’s when a new state law debuts allowing existing grocers and convenience stores to sell the same strength beer offered by liquor stores.
Clark’s Market and Aspen Wine & Spirits are part of the same shopping complex at North Mill and Puppy Smith streets and are separated by roughly 30 feet, so the new law’s regulation that just-opened grocers and convenience stores must be at least 500 feet from an existing liquor store in order to sell full-strength beer would not apply.
Clark’s is still awaiting the state’s approval of its application to sell 3.2 beer.
“As soon as we get the license we plan to start selling beer,” said Tom Clark Jr., president of Clark’s Market, on Wednesday.
The complaint from Aspen Wine & Spirits claims that the application from Clark’s failed to demonstrate that the demand for 3.2 brew was not being made in its neighborhood, and its “real purpose” for the license application is to sell full-strength beer starting Jan. 1.
“That’s why we were getting the license,” Clark Jr. said.
Clark’s Market is not a defendant in the complaint, which names the city and the Local Licensing Authority.
Aspen Wine & Spirits cites a state statute that requires licensing authorities to weigh the desires of a neighborhood before granting a liquor license, and Aspen’s board “did not consider the reasonable requirements of the neighborhood but instead followed a policy of granting all applications and improperly approved the application.”
Bill Murphy, chair of the Local Licensing Authority, said the application from Clark’s addressed every condition set forth by the board.
“They met all the qualifications,” he said, adding while “there might be harm to another liquor store, that’s not one of the things we consider” when it decides on a liquor-license application.
The complaint says the board’s policy of granting licenses and letting the market decide violates state liquor laws and is “unenforceable and cannot serve as a basis for the approval of an application” for Clark’s to sell beer.
Clark Jr. declined to comment about any discussions the grocer has had with Aspen Wine & Spirits, which has operated from its space since December 2001.
Clark’s Market used to sell 3.2 beer in Aspen but stopped in 2011 after the state repealed its so-called blue laws banning liquor sales on Sundays. Once that happened, booze merchants, such as Aspen Wine & Spirits, opened their doors on Sundays and could sell full-strength beer, while supermarkets and convenience stores could not.
“There was demand for the product, but once the liquors stores could open Sunday, there wasn’t any demand,” Clark Jr. said.
“The thing is, they had a 3.2 license before and just gave up on it,” Murphy said. “They met all of the qualifications, and there was no reason to deny it.”
The complaint was filed by Glenwood Springs attorney Richard Neiley Jr., who did not return a telephone message seeking comment Wednesday.
City Market in Aspen, which is located in the immediate vicinity as the Grog Shop, currently sells 3.2 beer and will be eligible to sell the full-strength version in January. Clark’s Market in Snowmass Village currently does not sell beer and does not have an application to sell suds in the future, according to Town Clerk Rhonda Coxon.