By David Irvin:CNJ staff writer
Clovis’ diners have more opportunity to drink alcoholic beverages with their meals these days.
More than half of Clovis’ 12 restaurants licensed to sell beer and wine have received their licenses in the past 18 months, according to the New Mexico Alcohol and Gaming Division.
Only three of the city’s active beer and wine licenses were issued before 2000, according to the state agency. Seven licenses have been issued since 2003.
“As a result of the economic development, in the last couple of years there have been more requests for beer and wine licenses,” said Claire Burroughes, executive assistant to Clovis’ city manager and the assistant city clerk. “I think the competition is growing a little bit, and the people want to meet the needs of a wider variety of consumers.”
Restaurants Sundance, Cotton Patch, and Leal’s have all been licensed to serve beer and wine in their establishments in the last year. With major national chains that include Chili’s coming into town, established restaurants in town are looking for ways to service all their customers’ needs, Burroughes said.
The trend is not limited to Clovis. Last week, Portales residents voted to allow beer and wine licenses for city restaurants.
Across the state, the number of beer and wine licenses has been flat over the last 10 years, holding to around 500 distributed annually, said Gary Tomada, director of the New Mexico Alcohol and Gaming Division.
Portales’ city officials promoted their alcohol issue as a means of increasing economic activity.
A spokesman for Chili’s restaurant, which is scheduled to open in Clovis on Thursday, said the chain will not locate in a community that does not allow alcohol sales.
“We are in the restaurant business; we are all about giving guests choices,” said Louis Adams, a spokesman for Brinker International, the parent company of Chili’s. “There are one thousand Chili’s. Eighty-five to 90 percent are in the U.S. Not one operates without the ability to sell alcoholic beverages.”
The city of Clovis does not allow the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays. Adams said Chili’s restaurants in some other cities have the same restriction.
But the issue can divide communities.
“The arrival of additional liquor licenses should concern every Clovis citizen,” Jim Gammon, minister at the Clovis Church of Christ at 16th and Pile, wrote in a prepared statement to the newspaper last week.
“When businesses claim they need liquor to compete, then it forces us to ask what kind of character defect wants to survive by preying on the weaknesses of others.”
Gammon argues against liquor licenses in Clovis on both moral and practical terms. He said liquor consumption increases social problems, including spouse and child abuse, drunken driving and on-the-job drunkenness.
“Eastern New Mexico prospered during the period of wide-spread dry counties and restricted alcohol sales,” he wrote in his statement. “This society will never again climb the heights when encouraging others to lie in the gutter.”
The Clovis City Commission has shown little opposition to allowing new establishments to acquire beer and wine licenses, Burroughes said.
When a request for a liquor license is brought before the commission, matters of health, safety and general welfare are discussed in the proceeding, but commissioners may not cast votes based on religious or moral grounds, Burroughes said. Every person testifying must be placed under oath, and the decision must be made upon evidence presented at the hearing, she said.
A restaurant’s distance from the nearest church, school and military installation are considered when beer and wine licenses are requested. And the owner of the new establishment must present a detailed floor plan on each level where alcoholic beverages will be sold, Burroughes said.
Burroughes said she began working for the city four years ago and she can’t recall a single instance when an application for a liquor license was turned down.
Sgt. Lee Mullen, with the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, special investigations, said the process for obtaining a license is extensive. An establishment’s owner must undergo an FBI background check to determine if there are any felony convictions and confirm he or she is eligible to conduct business in New Mexico. The business owner also must post a notice of his or her intentions to sell alcohol, allowing the public 20 days to write an objection to regulation and licensing. The intention must also be posted in a local newspaper, and city officials must approve the request.
Liquor law breakdown
Here is a summary of the common types of liquor licenses issued in New Mexico:
• Club: Granted by the state to non-profit organizations, such as fraternal clubs. Drinks can only be distributed to members and their guests. The annual fee is $200, paid to the state. It is nontransferable and the license has no market value. There are nine active club licenses in Clovis.
• Restaurant: Issued by the state to establishments serving food as their main business. Costs include $200 application fee, $1,050 upfront fee, annual $1,050 renewal fee, local fees and federal tax-stamp fees. Restaurants must prove no more than 40 percent of sales come from alcohol. The nontransferable license has no market value. There are 12 restaurant licenses in Clovis.
• Inner-local dispenser: Privately owned and may be sold or leased in the open market. It can be transferred from one district to another but used for on-premises sales only and is valued between $170,000 to $185,000. Chili’s and Red Lobster hold the two inner-local dispenser licenses in Clovis.
• Dispenser: Privately owned and may be sold or leased in the open market. It allows the owner to sell liquor on and off premises. It must be purchased in the community where it will be used and is valued between $185,000 and $225,000. Allsup’s holds six of the 12 dispenser licenses in town. Other holders are Albertsons, Clovis City Limits, Holiday Inn, Prince Lounge, Town & Country Food Store and Wal-Mart.
• Retailer: Privately owned and may be sold or leased in the open market. The retailer license is transferable without loss of the packaged, off-premises sales privileges. Jerry Hamm, owner of Liquor License & Consulting in Albuquerque, said a retail license is substantially more expensive than a dispenser license. Town & Country Food Stores own two retailer licenses and Walgreens owns one.
• Source: New Mexico Alcohol and Gaming Division and New Mexico Department of Public Safety.