Evanston beer sales impacted by Utah alcohol law

Like many liquor stores in Evanston, Border Beverage has placed its domestic beer near the back of its store. A new law regulating beer sales in grocery and convenience stores in Utah went into effect on Nov. 1, 2019, and local stores have seen a decrease in domestic beer sales that’s led some owners and managers to rearrange displays, focusing on specialty beer, wine and spirits. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — On Nov. 1, 2019, the state of Utah changed its liquor law to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with 5% alcohol by volume, which some say has significantly impacted the sale of domestic beer in Utah’s four neighboring states.

Cody Bateman, owner of Discount Liquor in Evanston, told the Salt Lake Tribune last month that his store had experienced a drop in sales of domestic beer, so he rearranged his displays of beer to focus on other specialty products.

Evan Perkes of Cowboy Joe’s Liquor Barn told the Herald that the new Utah liquor law hadn’t really affected business that much; only about 2.4% down from August to Dec. 31, 2019, than the year before. He said that October of 2019 was lower because the lottery was lower than the year before so he eliminated the data from October when comparing sales. 

“This change for domestic beer won’t affect us as we’ve always focused on promoting our specialty beers, liquors and wine,” Perkes said. “We place all of those products in front, and the domestic beer is in a cooler at the back of the store.”

Perkes said if his store was much closer to the interstate, it might affect their sales more.  He did note that when people from Utah stop at his business, they used to throw in a 12 pack of domestic beer with their liquor purchases, but some are no longer doing that.

David and Julie O’Connell, co-owners of Border Beverage in Evanston, said since they have only had the business one year, it was difficult to come up with a percentage drop. However, they stated that they had seen a drop since November of 2019 and weren’t ordering as much domestic beer.

“This summer will be the telling point for us as we had a great summer last year before the beer law change in Utah,” Julie O’Connell said. 

They, like Perkes, are focusing more on specialty beers and high quality wines and spirits. They sell the magazine “Wine Spectator,” which rates the best 100 wines, and they stock some of those wines. They also place their specialty items at the front of the store and the domestic beer walk-in cooler is toward the back. O’Connell said that Wyoming has breweries and distilleries, and they like to support those local businesses by stocking their specialty beers and liquors.

“We are experimenting with different products to see what sells,” David O’Connell said. “We have ready-to-make alcohol ‘Sloshies.’ Bourbon whisky is really popular right now. We have developed a great working relationship with the sales representative from the Wyoming Liquor Commission. They have a warehouse in Cheyenne and distributors stock it. We recently ordered a barrel of whiskey which contains 180 bottles of prime product.”

O’Connell said the people from Utah will still come to buy the whiskey and other spirits, as those items are more expensive in Utah.

“It’s too soon to really judge whether this change will have a big impact on our domestic beer sales. We will just have to wait and see. Memorial Day weekend will be a telling point,” he said.

John Porter, owner of Porter’s Fireworks & Liquor Store gave a whole different perspective on the subject of the Utah liquor law change regarding domestic beer.

“What is happening in Utah is nothing new. They have had archaic liquor laws as do many other states. The 3.2% beer is not one bit different from the 4.4% beer. Utah measured their alcohol content by weight and Wyoming is measured by volume. There is not one bit of difference in the alcohol content and never has been,” Porter said.

(Editor’s note: The recent change in Utah law has led to some confusion because, while most states measure alcohol by volume (ABV), Utah measures it by weight (ABW). The old Utah limit of 3.2% was measured by weight, and it equates to about 4% ABV. The new 5% ABV limit for grocery and convenience stores in Utah equates to about 4% ABW.)

“The decline in domestic beer sales started several years ago, when Anheuser Busch started charging Wyoming stores more for beer because we have lower population,” Porter said. “We had to charge at least $4 more for six less cans of beer. We can’t compete with Utah prices on domestic beer. Wyoming has the highest prices for beer…”

The ’80s and ’90s were the heyday of beers, Porter said, adding that the Internet affected the decline in beer sales as well. One reason, he said, is because people can learn how to brew their own beer easier now and can better educate themselves about specialty beers. Because of those factors, Porter said there has been a 30% decline in beer sales long before the Utah law changed. He said that leading up to New Year’s this year, his fireworks sales were up by 7% but his beer sales were down 37% from last year’s holiday. He agreed with the other store owners that Memorial Day weekend will be a telling point on how much Utah has currently affected Evanston beer sales.

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