What qualifies as a ‘need’ for liquor, Basalt officials ponder | AspenTimes.com

What qualifies as a ‘need’ for liquor, Basalt officials ponder

New application for liquor license triggers discussion on possible cap

A run-of-the-mill request for a new liquor license triggered talk among Basalt Town Council members Tuesday night on whether they need to limit off-premise, retail liquor establishments.

The owners of Willits General Store sought approval to sell fermented malt beverages. Store representative Edwin Piper said the request was a product of comments and complaints from customers who want to be able to pick up a six-pack of beer while filling up with gas or picking up convenience goods after work. The store wants to sell “basic beer” in a couple of small coolers, Piper said.

“We offer a little bit of everything. That’s our business model — convenience,” he said.

Representatives of Four Dogs Fine Wine and Spirits, located less than a quarter mile away from Willits General Store, opposed the license application.

Robbie Bella, who orders the beer for Four Dogs, contended that adding another outlet will hurt the sales of existing liquor stores in the neighborhood — Four Dogs, El Jebeverage and El Jebel Liquors all are located within a quarter-mile of Willits General Store.

“I want to ask, does Willits need this and when will the need (for more liquor outlets) stop?” Bella asked the council.

The query triggered a short debate among the council about “need” for more liquor sales. Councilwoman Elyse Hottel said she would like the council to have a broader discussion on how many licenses the town wants to provide to liquor stores and even restaurants. Other council members said they want to focus on discussing licenses just for off-premise, retail liquor.

Councilman Gary Tennenbaum noted that the town government limits how many licenses it will issue for recreational and medical marijuana shops at two apiece. Maybe it also needs to set a limit on liquor stores, he said.

Hottel made a motion to table the request by Willits General Store until Jan. 11. The store will have an opportunity to demonstrate the “need.” Piper presented a petition signed by 40 adults in favor of granting the license. It was unclear how much more proof of need will be required.

The general store held a liquor license at one time and operated a liquor store in an adjoining space. That license was transferred in 2012 to Four Dogs.

Turning down a liquor license application is rare but not unheard of in Basalt. The council denied an application by Whole Foods Market in 2018 on the basis that it was too close to Four Dogs. The businesses are adjacent to one another.

Tennenbaum was on the council that denied that request. “Why do you need two right next to one another?” he said of that issue. The request by Willits General Store is different because they aren’t adjacent, he said.

Mayor Bill Kane supported the motion to continue the hearing, but he said he doesn’t see Willits General Store as a threat to Four Dogs and the other liquor stores. They all offer wine and spirits, he said, while the general store just wants beer in a couple of display coolers.

“Basically, all of the criteria have been met,” Kane said.