Utah lawmakers visit liquor store to see DABC problems

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Members of the Utah State Legislature visited a state-run liquor store and the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control's massive 14-story warehouse to get an up-close look at how the alcohol authority operates.

For some lawmakers, it was one of the few times they have actually been in a liquor store.

"This is maybe my second time walking in a liquor store," Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, told FOX 13. "But even though I don't consume, there's people that need help that do want this."

Lawmakers visit a Utah State Liquor store on Thursday. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Lawmakers visit a Utah State Liquor store on Thursday. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Lawmakers heard about problems facing the DABC, which breaks sales records year after year. This year, it's on track to do more than $400 million in retail sales. The DABC has no control over its own budget, however. All of its money goes back to the state coffers.

DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos told the legislature's Business & Labor Appropriations Subcommittee that it could add as many as 18 new liquor stores to meet demand.

"What this agency is seeing right now is great demand for the products that we sell," he said. "That places pressure on the infrastructure of the department."

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, and Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, pose for a picture in the DABC's liquor warehouse. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, and Rep. Dixon Pitcher, R-Ogden, pose for a picture in the DABC's liquor warehouse. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Retaining employees is difficult. Petilos told the committee that turnover is at 33 percent. Rank-and-file DABC employees make anywhere from $9 to $10.25 per hour. DABC store manager David Paul told the committee that he's pushed for raises.

"I put in to get them a dollar more raise to keep them and I think that one was approved," Paul said.

"You're not serious. You raised them to $11.25 after two years, three years?" House Majority Leader Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, replied. "How do you retain anybody?"

"That's the issue," Paul said.

Members of the Utah State Legislature inside the DABC warehouse. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Members of the Utah State Legislature inside the DABC warehouse. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Sen. Ann Millner, R-Ogden, asked if there were policy changes the legislature could enact to help the DABC "operate like a business." It is the state's only retail operation.

Pitcher said they needed to do more to give the DABC the ability to retain workers. Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, said there needed to be a balancing act between meeting consumer demand while also safeguarding the public.

"Somehow we have to create a rational balance where people, adults, have the knowledge to pick and choose and if they choose to use this, they use it in an informed way," he told FOX 13. "And protect the families and children as well."

The DABC's warehouse has 14 stories of alcohol. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

The DABC's warehouse has 14 stories of alcohol. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

Utah, being a liquor control state, regulates the sale and supply of alcohol. At a presentation Wednesday, the DABC suggested lawmakers look at other policy issues, including:

  • Potential legislation on beer labeling. DABC Compliance Manager Nina McDermott told the committee 3.2% beer sold in grocery stores and convenience stores is very similar to the labels for heavy beer sold in liquor stores.
  • Labeling issues with so-called "alcopops" that have returned to grocery stores.
  • Liquor licensees are asking for direct shipments from distributors.
  • Customers are asking for alcohol shipments to Utah.
  • Customers have asked lawmakers to address the Zion Curtain issue.
  • Theaters (including the soon to open Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City) are asking to serve wine and beer. There is no license that allows them to serve both without being a limited-service restaurant.