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Editorial: Utah market supports more liquor stores

Published December 21, 2013 1:01 am

How about a few more stores?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How many liquor stores are allowed in Utah is a simple matter of state law and math. The law says that the state should have one full retail store for every 48,000 state residents.

To anyone who shows up at a state store on a Saturday afternoon, they don't need the math. Seems like all 48,000 are waiting in the checkout line.

So it's easy to agree with a recent University of Utah College of Business analysis that says the state should add 12 more liquor stores along the Wasatch Front. Truth be told, the state could add twice that many, and people still would have to drive miles for a bottle of pinot.

There are currently 44 state stores across the state serving a population of 2.8 million, which means the dozen stores are needed just to maintain that one store per 48,000. Even accounting for the large portion of non-drinkers in Utah, the number of stores is far below what a free market would sustain.

The argument, of course, is that the state is protecting its citizenry. Those in charge have always insisted that consumption of alcohol be tolerated only to the extent that business interests demand it. Some companies wouldn't locate in a dry state, and tourists, who bring more than $7 billion to Utah each year, tend to want to have a drink with dinner.

Here's a question: which is a Utahn more likely to patronize, a liquor store or a payday loan store? A recent state report found Utah has 565 loan stores, charging an average of 473 percent annual interest on loans. Once the dozen liquor outlets are built, there still will be 10 payday lenders for every liquor store, and there is no effort to limit either the number of these lenders or the interest they charge. We're apparently just fine with people drowning their sorrows in debt.

Alcohol is regulated by the federal government and by all 50 states, and its overconsumption extracts a societal price of lost productivity, broken families and early death.

But those problems are not solved by making hundreds of thousands of people — the vast majority of whom drink responsibly — drive across town and stand in long lines to make a perfectly legitimate purchase.




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