A deadline looms for 59 Utah bars that have not yet renewed their state liquor license.
Owners of these establishments have until Aug. 31 at 5 p.m. to pony up the $2,000 annual fee or risk losing the sought-after permit that allows them to sell alcohol and stay in business.
The payment has to be in the hands of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control by Monday, Angela Micklos, director of compliance and licensing, said. Sending a check with an Aug. 31 postmark “just won’t cut it.”
The usual renewal date for Utah bars is May 31. However, since many establishments were unable to open during the coronavirus shutdown, the Legislature tweaked state law and granted the bar owners a three-month extension.
Of the 310 bars in Utah, more than 100 took advantage of the deferral, Micklos said.
Last week, the Legislature approved a similar extension to all restaurants, hotels, reception centers and banquet facilities, which normally must renew liquor licenses by Sept. 30. If Gov. Gary Herbert signs HB6006, those business would have until Dec. 21 to pay the DABC.
With the deadline for bars less than a week away, DABC officials are unsure how many of the owners who took the extension are procrastinating and how many simply can’t afford to renew.
By Sept. 1, though, the agency will know the full impact the coronavirus has had on bars — which were among the hardest hit when the state stopped all dine-in service in mid-March.
Some bars that were equipped to serve food were able to pivot and offer takeout or delivery to customers. But those that lacked adequate kitchens were forced to closed.
As health restrictions across the state eased, many bars have reopened — but aren’t necessarily packed. Many customers are still steering clear of public places to avoid contracting COVID-19.
If existing bars do forfeit their licenses, it could help ease the state’s current shortage.
On Tuesday, there were 10 businesses waiting for a bar license — but the state liquor commission only had one to give. It went to Balcony One, located in the southern Utah town of Virgin, an “underserved area” of the state.
“We seem to be in the same situation we were a year or two ago,” said commission chairman John T. Nielsen. “We have far more applicants than licenses available.”
Businesses that want a bar license must apply with the DABC and then wait until one becomes available through an increase in population — state law allows one bar for every 10,200 people.
A license could become available before then — if another bar shuts down and relinquishes its license. Businesses can also buy bar licenses from other owners. Because the permits are in short supply, they have sold for as much as $50,000 in recent months.
Two years ago, the state had a similar shortage, with some business owners waiting more than a year to get a bar license. The waiting list dwindled in 2018, after the Legislature tweaked liquor laws. That initially alleviated the bar license shortage.
But it was only a temporary fix. The list has grown again. And chances of getting a bar license are slim. Only two permits are expected to become available through population increases during the last quarter of 2020.
That is why DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos issued this public service announcement during the commission’s monthly meeting.
“If you have not paid your license fee,” he said, “the deadline is looming.”