Online sales may be coming soon to Utah liquor stores

A pilot program at two liquor stores — with limits — hinges on funding from the Utah Legislature.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bottles of whiskey lined up at a state liquor and wine store in Saratoga Springs, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is developing a pilot program to sell wine and spirits online through two Utah liquor stores.

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The agency that regulates Utah alcohol sales is asking the legislature for nearly $3.2 million to start a pilot program to let state-run liquor stores sell booze online.

Under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s plan, two liquor stores would start “click and collect” systems, to sell alcoholic products online. One of the stores would be the relocated store in West Valley City, at 5432 W. High Market Drive, which is scheduled to open later this year — and is being built out to accommodate the online program.

The online sales proposal was part of a bill passed by the Utah Legislature last year, and signed by Gov. Spencer Cox.

The law allows online ordering of beer at liquor stores, if the retailer processes the payment only after the customer goes into the store and verifies that they are 21 and older and “the patron who placed the order.”

The bill also would allow customers to place an online order at a licensed distillery, beer or winery, or at a state liquor store. Again, the customer would have to enter the business, prove they were 21 or older and the person who placed the order.

Online liquor sales sparked interest in several states last year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of many bars and restaurants.

During her presentation to lawmakers last week, Tiffany Clason, the agency’s executive director, said the online sales were expected to reap $2,028,432 in added revenue in their first year, and as much as $10 million a year after that.

DABC is seeking $3,184,000 from legislators for the pilot program. The agency also is asking for funds to upgrade its IT system, which would allow DABC to take online payments and license applications. Both requests will be part of the legislature’s omnibus liquor bill.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the DABC board, only one bar applicant was granted a liquor license: Garage Grill, at 12600 S. Mountain View Corridor in Herriman. The grill aims to open this week.

The board’s approval for Garage Grill drew objections from the owners of Trolley Wing Co., at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square. Trolley Wing closed its Trolley Square location, which seats 14 customers in a refurbished trolley car, so the owners could transfer the bar license to the company’s 340-seat restaurant in Taylorsville, which had been denied a license in December. The owners had hoped to have both facilities open and serving alcohol.

Thomas Jacobsen, the board’s chair, noted that “not only has [Garage Grill] been waiting for months and months, they’ve been on the list, but they’re in what we would call an underserved area — where, unfortunately, you fall into an area that has other options, shall we say.”

The board has limited licenses to give out, Jacobsen said. The distribution of licenses is based on a formula, devised by the legislature, to increase the number of drinking establishments only as the state’s population rises.

At February’s meeting, the DABC board again will have only one bar license to give out. Commissioner Tara Thue said DABC will have only 51 full-service restaurant licenses for the next year — and six of them were handed out Tuesday. At that rate, she said, DABC will run out of licenses by late summer.

“Next year is going to be an interesting year in the legislature,” Jacobsen commented.

Besides the Garage Grill, these applicants received license approval from the DABC board Tuesday:

• Educational permits: Summit Sips Wine School, Draper; Wine Tastings with Denise, Salt Lake City.

• Full-service restaurants: Baek Ri Hyang Korean Restaurant, Salt Lake City; Bigshots Golf, St. George; Bistro by Butler, Salt Lake City; Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, Taylorsville; Mimi’s Café, Murray; Ramblin Roads Restaurant, Layton.

• Limited-service restaurants: Dirty Bird Fried Chxx, Clearfield; The French Spot, Cedar City; Ika Sushi & Japanese Restaurant, Midvale; Picnic, Salt Lake City; Riggatti’s, St George.