Aspen beer battle heats up |

Aspen beer battle heats up

Clark’s Market recently was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by its neighbor Aspen Wine & Spirits, which is asking a judge to vacate a local board’s decision to allow the supermarket to sell low-strength beer.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

A liquor store that is suing the city for allowing a supermarket to sell low-strength beer has amended its complaint to include the purveyor of the suds in question.

Aspen Wine & Spirits amended its complaint Sept. 24 to include Clark’s Market as a defendant. The revised lawsuit came nearly three weeks after it sued the city and asked 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.

Since that original suit was filed, Clark’s started stocking its refrigerated shelves with beer in anticipation of selling full-strength brew Jan. 1, which is when a new state law takes effect that permits existing grocers and convenience stores to sell the same strength beer offered by liquor stores.

The matter came up at the monthly meeting Tuesday of the Local Licensing Authority, a city-appointed board that also is a defendant.

“Frankly, it is unlikely that the court will revoke the license,” City Attorney Jim True told members of the board. “We think the most likely scenario is the decision is upheld. The second alternative is the court kicks it back to you for further findings; that is certainly possible.”

Aspen Wine & Spirits’ amended suit contends that Clark’s “failed to identify the geographic neighborhood the needs of which are not being reasonably fulfilled by other licensed retailers, including the plaintiff,” adding that the liquor store currently meets the neighborhood’s demands.

The LLA, when it granted the license to Clark’s at its Aug. 7 meeting, also has a policy of “approving all liquor licenses applications … regardless of the applicant’s demonstration that the reasonable requirement of the neighborhood were not being met,” the suit says.

The complaint isn’t seeking monetary damages, but instead asks a judge to void the liquor license held by Clark’s.

True, however, expressed confidence in the LLA’s decision.

“We believe that the authority here acted properly and we will defend that decision,” said True, noting the city has retained a Denver attorney through its insurance carrier to handle the matter.

Clark’s has sold beer before, but stopped in 2011 in response to the state’s decision to lift its so-called blue laws and allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays. That gave the liquor stores an advantage over supermarkets and convenience stores, which could only sell 3.2 beer.

With the new law taking hold in 2019, Clark’s Market and other retailers have sought licenses to sell 3.2 beer to pave the way for a smooth transition to sell full-strength beer starting in January.

Business competition in the shopping center has gone into the legal arena in the past. At one time Clark’s sued a restaurant for selling olive oil, because the eatery’s lease precluded it from selling products offered by the supermarket. The matter went to the state appellate court, which in 2000 upheld a district judge’s ruling that the restaurant had to stop selling the olive oil.