Idaho lawmakers listened to resort town officials this morning call the Gem State's liquor laws a drag on their communities, making it difficult for restaurants to compete for business.
"When customers come in, they realize they can’t have a cocktail with dinner," Driggs Mayor Daniel Powers told members of the House State Affairs Committe. "As a tourist destination, we compete with neighboring states, and keeping our customers from a full dining experience hurts our ability to grow economically."
Only two restaurants in the small eastern border town of Driggs can pour liquor, in accordance with Idaho's liquor by the drink license quota system. Currently, standard liquor licenses, excluding those for airports, golf courses and a list of other locations, are issued to restaurants and bars per 1,500 residents.
House Bill 195 would allow restaurants located in "resort cities" such as Driggs to receive a liquor license exempt from the quota, provided 60 percent of their gross revenue is derived from the "sale of meals on-site."
Of the 19 restaurants in Driggs, Powers told lawmakers a half dozen would be considered sit-down restaurants, and could benefit from liquor licenses.
However license-holders were firmly against the bill, concerned their investment in licenses—which can net big returns when sold to another restaurateur—would be diluted by more licenses.
"We had to wait 12 years to purchase the liquor license. We’re one of the people who invested in that as our retirement," said Melina Nielsen, owner of Si, Bueno in McCall.
"The act before you is fatally flawed," said Russell Westerberg, a lobbyist representing Coeur d'Alene Resort operators Hagadone Hospitality.
"Those promoting this legislation should be careful what they wish for. This bill would open the door to national chains to come in and compete with their businesses," said Raeleen Welton, lobbyist for the Idaho Licensed Beverage Association.
A motion to hold the bill in committee passed unanimously by a voice vote.