State shuts down liquor store in Tremonton

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) DABC employees Tim Beardall and Terry Wood remove inventory from the package agency in Tremonton after routine audits showed a string of money losses and consumers lodged repeated complaints about stock availability, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017.

A state-contracted liquor store in Tremonton was shut down on Tuesday after routine audits showed a string of money losses over the summer.

Robert McLachlan, the absentee owner of the store at 140 E. Main, has reimbursed the state for the missing funds — which ranged from $11,000 in June to $2,000 in August.

When money shortages are discovered at contract stores or “package agencies,” however, the DABC immediately stops liquor shipments until it is reimbursed, said Anita Knowley, the department‘s package agency specialist.

The reduced shipments have affected selection and availability at the Tremonton store, which now carries about $29,000 worth of liquor, down from its regular $50,000, she told the DABC liquor commission during its monthly meeting.

Consumers have noticed the decline in selection and availability and have complained to the DABC.

“While package agencies are privately owned, they still represent the state,” said Commission Chairman John T. Neilsen. He said the DABC “has an obligation to the citizens of Tremonton” to ensure the contract-stores operate properly.

Other commission members agreed, voting unanimously to close the store. Later in the day, the DABC dispatched employees to remove all remaining liquor from the Main Street store.

Utah has more than 120 state package agencies, which are privately run outlets in towns too small to warrant a full-sized, state-owned store. Operators get monthly payments from the state based on sales volume. Package agencies also are located in breweries, wineries and distilleries, as well as in resorts and hotels where the outlets exist primarily for the benefit of their guests.

McLachlan said he has operated the package agency in Tremonton for 30 years. He went into “semi-retirement” several months ago, hiring employees to manage and run the store.

He told the commission before its vote that he plans to sell his South Carolina home and return to Utah to operate the store. “I‘ve repaid the state out of my own personal funds,” he said, adding that “I may have to file charges against some of the employees.”

The commission did not indicate whether it would seek another contract for the Tremonton area. Now, the nearest liquor store for Tremonton, with a population of about 8,400, is in Brigham City, about 18 miles south.

It’s not the first time a Utah package agency has run into financial trouble. Earlier this year, the state closed the package agency in Payson after $37,000 in public funds went missing; and in 2011, the package agency in Eden, near Ogden, was shut down when the owner declared bankruptcy, costing taxpayers more than $110,000.