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Utah Bars And Restaurants Weigh State's Offer To Return Alcohol

Photo of Piper Down pub from outside
Jon Reed
Piper Down owner Dave Morris said he’d rather keep the alcohol he bought this month — even if he can’t sell it right now — in the hopes that he'll be able to open up again soon. ";s:3:"u

As the economic toll of social distancing weighs on bars and restaurants, Gov. Gary Herbert issued an executive order Wednesday evening to make it easier for them to return the alcohol they bought in March but can no longer sell.

After the statewide ban on dine-in service was handed down earlier this week — effective at least through April 1 — the new offer allows bars and restaurants a full, expedited refund on any alcohol purchased through the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Normally a cumbersome process, the executive order would waive restocking fees and aim to get the money back to businesses more quickly. 

For Lisa Forman, who owns the Legends Sports Pub with two locations in Salt Lake County, it’s a good offer. 

She said she’s had to lay off most of her 60 employees already, but could get more than $6,000 back from the alcohol she bought this month — money that will go mostly to keeping the few employees she has left. 

“Right now, paying employees wages and keeping health insurance premiums in place are most important to me,” she said. “Not alcohol that's just sitting here on the shelf.”

She said she’s only able to stay open now by serving take-out orders. But it’s not clear how long that will sustain the business. 

“We're only testing it through this first week,” she said. “Because if I'm losing money, then I'm just going to shut my doors until we can come back up.”

Dave Morris has already closed down his five bars — three in Salt Lake City and two in Ogden. 

He said while he does serve food, most of the money he makes comes from alcohol sales. Without that, it doesn’t make sense to stay open. 

He said returning alcohol to the DABC could be helpful to some businesses, but he’d rather hold onto it until he can open back up. 

“Anything I sell back, a month later I'd have to come up with the money to restock my shelves.” Morris said. “Even if it's 60 days from now, that bottle of Jameson is still going to sell.”

He said he’s going to wait it out and hope he’s allowed to reopen soon, though he’s still planning to apply for a small business loan to hold him over through the uncertainty. 

What’s most concerning, he said, is how his 200 employees will get by, most of whom he had to let go. He’s worried that after the next week, they might have a harder time staying afloat.

“Groceries aren't free, they're still gonna get charged their rent,” he said. “All those things are right around the corner.”

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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