Guest opinion: Why we temporarily closed the Swede Alley liquor store
Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission
It has been a privilege to serve for almost four years as vice chair of the Utah Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. New commissioners learn quickly there has been a lot of misconceptions about alcohol in Utah, and in particular the respective roles of the commission and the Legislature.
Temporarily closing the Swede Alley store has focused attention on many aspects of the operation of our state and the role alcohol plays within our greater community. This is not the first time there has been a discussion about closing Swede Alley, but this time, after careful consideration and attempts to juggle personnel, there is no alternative. The answer is plain and simple: The DABC is shortstaffed because the wages it can pay are carefully controlled by the Legislature, and the current wages are not competitive with retail sales outlets elsewhere. The good news is the Legislature will undertake this issue during the upcoming session and Gov. Cox has publicly stated he wants to see state wages competitive with the private sector. In the meantime, DABC will be looking to find a way to staff and reopen Swede Alley.
When a major event such as this takes place, there is always a discussion about alcohol in Utah. Myths are created, distorting the state’s policy toward alcohol. All states in this country, to one extent or another, control alcohol. In response to the questions as to why alcohol is controlled in this country, one need only look at the damage abuse of alcohol can cause, both for minors and adults. For example, last year on Utah highways there were 9,469 alcohol-related accidents and 254 alcohol-related deaths. In Utah, the focus has been to make alcohol safely available and protect our citizens, both from themselves and others, with the abuse of alcohol.
DABC is an evolving entity. In general, it sells alcohol at or below what is charged consumers in other states. It uses customer input to decide what brands to try and carry. It allows for special orders. When it became apparent the pandemic was not going to be a short-term issue, the state moved quickly to facilitate outdoor dining and the service of alcohol in those areas. It adopted new rules for wine clubs and is considering alternatives for the service of alcohol and delivery without going into the stores. And as any commissioner will assure you, none of the religious groups present in this state have taken any position other than assuring when alcohol is used it is used safely.
Last year DABC turned over a net profit to the state of $500 million. In those states where alcohol is sold through the private sector, government still imposes licensing and regulation, and has the ongoing expense of regulation that must be borne by the taxpayers. In Utah, DABC’s net revenue funds our expenses for schools, roads and other public services.
One of DABC’s obligations under Utah law is our program entitled Parents Empowered. This excellent program educates parents and our younger generation of the dangers of abusing alcohol. This is particularly important in Park City because the statistics establish that our local area has one of the highest rates of minors consuming alcohol. Experts remind us that when a young brain is developing, alcohol can cause major damage, and this can have a long-term effect on the individual and the community.
We look forward to reopening our Swede Alley location and introducing other improvements in our other Park City stores. The state of Utah is committed to assuring access to alcoholic beverages for those using them responsibly.
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