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Helper City officials pleaded with the state on Tuesday to reopen the liquor outlet in their small Carbon County community in central Utah because of the economic harm the closure is causing.
The state liquor-control agency decided to close the outlet, after its operator retired, because a larger state-run store already operates in Price, seven miles south.
Helper Council member Robert Bradley told the board of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that without its own liquor outlet, the community is losing business and tax dollars to its larger neighbor.
Helper Mayor Dean Armstrong said that without a liquor outlet, economic development will be dealt a blow in the town of 2,000 people that attracts about 20,000 visitors each year. He said Helper is spending millions of dollars in canal, stream and other improvements as it moves from its historic mission of coal mining and railroads to a recreational destination.
"The liquor store has been an anchor for other businesses," he said. "And even though Price doesn't seem far, it's a public safety issue that we also have a liquor store here. Residents and visitors shouldn't have to drive if they choose to buy alcohol."
Before its closure, the Helper store had annual sales of $160,000 with $84,700 in profits going to local and state treasuries. It had been operating since Prohibition ended in the 1930s.
Commissioners with the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control requested more information on the number of people impacted by the closure. The board will reconsider the closure at its next regularly scheduled meeting, May 22.
Helper was among 36 state package agencies, which are different from larger state-owned stores because they are privately run operations in small towns and resorts. Most are stand-alone structures, although seven operate inside markets or other businesses. Payments by the state to contractors are based on sales, but cannot exceed a certain amount.
The former owner of the Helper outlet, Sandra Diamante, retired, prompting state officials to close it Feb. 29. The stand-alone structure at 68 South Main St. remains vacant.
The state was under no obligation to conduct a public hearing on the closure and did not do so. Two years ago, when commissioners were considering closing state-run liquor stores and the private outlets to make up for a budget shortfall, local officials were given the opportunity to make an appeal before the liquor-control board. Helper was on the hit list but escaped closure.
This time, Helper City officials were given three weeks notice that the store would be shuttered.
There's a huge gap in the number of liquor stores and outlets per Utah residents, compared with the ratio for the seven other states where liquor is sold through state-controlled monopolies.
In Utah, each location serves 17,648 residents, compared with one outlet per 1,118 residents in Washington, the state with the next-highest ratio, according to figures released last year by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. Last fall, however, Washington voters approved a measure allowing the private sector to sell alcohol in grocery and warehouse stores.
Privatization initiatives in Utah have fizzled.
Despite the comparative scarcity of locations, earlier this year the package agencies in Duchesne and Roosevelt also were closed, causing Duchesne County in eastern Utah to go dry for a time.
The outlets were closed after the store operators died.
Imbibers in Duchesne were forced to drive 55 miles south to the Price liquor store, and Roosevelt customers had to travel 35 miles east to Vernal, in Uintah County.
The Duchesne outlet reopened April 11 after being shuttered since January. Longtime residents Kenneth and Ginger McKinnon have been awarded a contract to operate it.
In Roosevelt, officials are looking for a contractor to operate the liquor outlet, which closed March 26. Once a contract is approved, it will take several more days to restock the outlet, said liquor-control spokeswoman Vickie Ashby.
The Duchesne outlet is among the state's smaller package agencies, with annual sales of nearly $400,000, while the Roosevelt outlet is one of the largest, with annual sales of nearly $1 million. The state store in Price has annual sales of $1.9 million.
Carbon, Duchesne County liquor stores:
Duchesne • 151 E. Main Street
Roosevelt • 28 S. 200 East.
Hours • noon to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Price • 50 North 100 West
Hours • 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday