Two sides in liquor war cant decide up from down |

Two sides in liquor war cant decide up from down

Scott Condon Aspen Times Staff Writer

Now that Basalt has temporarily resolved its library war, its moving on to the liquor war. The Basalt Town Council will sit as the town Liquor Licensing Authority Monday night to review an application for a fourth liquor store in town. The proposal is sparking controversy among one faction that contends there are already enough liquor outlets and another that says the market should dictate how much is enough. All the fuss is over Willits Fine Wines and Distilled Spirits, which wants to open in one of the commercial spaces that sprouted over the last several months at the intersection of Willits Lane and Highway 82. The liquor store would be managed and partially owned by longtime restaurateur Bob Hite. His partners would be Willits developers Michael Lipkin, Clay Crossland and Paul Adams. The main opposition is coming from El Jebeverage, a liquor store next to the El Jebel City Market, and its landlord, Jim Valerio. El Jebel Liquors, across the highway from City Market, is also in opposition. Mick Ireland, the attorney for Valerio, and Lee Leavenworth, the attorney for the proposed store, filed reams of paperwork with the town this month to try to sway the decision. Leavenworths material said his side paid for a professional survey that shows Basaltines want more choices when it comes to purchasing wine and spirits. Ireland countered with his sides own poll which shows people of Basalt think the town has enough outlets. Dueling polls Willits Wine and Spirits survey showed that 230 respondents in Basalt favored a new liquor store because their needs werent being met. Only 16 were opposed. In the adjacent areas of Sopris Village and El Jebel, which arent part of Basalt, the survey showed 96 people in favor and 19 opposed. Support of this magnitude, demonstrated through statistically relevant sampling techniques, is compelling evidence that supports granting a liquor license, Leavenworth wrote. Ireland and Mark Bender, the attorney for El Jebeverage, countered with their own professional polling results. They noted that when 272 registered voters in Basalt were asked if the towns three liquor stores were enough, 66 percent said yes and only 21 percent wanted more. The remaining 13 percent didnt know. When asked specifically if the Willits Wine and Spirits application should be approved, the survey showed 51 percent said yes and 33 percent said no. The remaining 16 percent didnt know. Protecting pocketbooks Leavenworths memo to the liquor authority said the opposition really boils down to money. The liquor stores in Basalt have a good thing going and El Jebeverage doesnt want a threat to its piece of the pie. Since 1992, the amount of sales tax collected from retail liquor sales has nearly quadrupled while the number of outlets has remained constant, he wrote. The sales tax increased from $22,662 in 1992 to $82,596 last year, according to town of Basalt figures. Based on a 2 percent sales tax levy, gross revenues for liquor stores increased to more than $4 million since 1992, according to Leavenworth. This explosion in sales volume has been shared by the same three liquor stores, he wrote. Two of those liquor stores, Jimbos and Alpine Liquor Store, have stayed out of the fray. Willits Fine Wines and Distilled Spirits claimed it would enter a new niche, so it wouldnt necessarily invade the other stores markets. It will target difficult-to-get wines and liquors and limited-production beverages, according to its application. It contended it will also offer a highly trained staff to complement its excellent selection.Leavenworth said there was clearly a need for the proposed store.Ireland counters that there is no need because the population of West Basalt is decreasing slightly and growth at Willits is stagnant. The need for another liquor store in the neighborhood wont come for at least another decade, he explains in his written arguments to the liquor authority.El Jebel Liquors submitted information which indicated sales are down 7 to 10 percent this year due to the sour economy. The M&Ms theory Ireland also warned against the potential for oversaturation of midvalley residents. Basalt already leads the Roaring Fork Valley in liquor licenses per capita, with one per 941 residents, he said. If it approves this store, it will have one per 706 residents. He asked whether a town with a declining population and a financially stressed government really needs opportunities for more alcohol consumption.To press his point, Ireland unveiled the M&Ms theory: Common sense tells us that putting a fourth retail outlet a hundred yards off the highway as a gas station is going to create additional spontaneous purchases of alcohol with resulting law enforcement and social costs.Imagine having a bowl of M&Ms always present in your living room and at the work desk, Ireland continued. Is it reasonable to assume that your consumption will increase? The council is scheduled to ponder such questions starting at 6:15 p.m. Monday at Town Hall.Scott Condons e-mail address is

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