SALT LAKE CITY -- Under a new law passed by the legislature, every single grocery and convenience store in Utah that wants to sell beer will have to apply for a liquor license.
They will apply for "off-premise" beer licenses that will subject them to new regulations from Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The DABC said it will begin taking applications in July, when the law takes effect.
"The licenses were previously local and now with the new legislation, it will be overseen by the state," said DABC Commissioner Neal Berube.
Mom-and-pop convenience stores and mega-grocery chains will face inspections and, if there's violations, fines or revocation of their beer license. There are also new restrictions being put in place limiting beer displays to only two areas in a store and signage clearly warning that people are purchasing an alcoholic beverage.
Utah only sells 3.2 beer outside of state-run liquor stores, which has been criticized by drinkers as being "weak." Major breweries have threatened that it will stop producing 3.2 beer brands as other states have moved away from it.
The DABC is bracing for an increased workload. The agency already oversees regulations for every bar and restaurant in the state that serves alcohol. Agency officials told FOX 13 on Tuesday they did not know how many businesses would apply, but anticipated thousands who wanted to keep selling beer. The legislature budgeted enough that it could hire five new employees.
"I do believe it creates additional bureaucracy," said Berube. "But maybe it's necessary."
The law was brought in part because of complaints that some businesses were displaying ciders and flavored malt beverages in areas not near the beer coolers, which could put them in places accessible to children. As part of a liquor license, store employees will undergo training on illegal sales.
Like existing beer licenses for taverns and restaurants, it is expected there will be an unlimited supply. The new licenses will not allow for wine or stronger beer sales in grocery and convenience stores.
The Utah Retail Merchants Association said it estimates 2,200 stores statewide would be affected by the new licensure requirement. The group said it expects they will all be fully compliant with the law.
Utah-based Harmons Grocery told FOX 13 it intended to seek licenses for its stores.
"Harmons has always worked hard to ensure that we are in compliance with DABC regulations, and the changes to the Utah's beer laws are no exception. Harmons will work hard to ensure it continues to comply with these regulations," the store chain said in a statement.
Berube, whose day job is the CEO of Associated Food Stores, told FOX 13 his stores would also seek the off-premise beer licenses.
"I would expect our employees to be in full compliance," he said. "I jokingly said if we're found in non-compliance, our fine would be triple!"