Clark's

Clark’s Market, located in the North Mill Station building, recently was granted a local license to sell 3.2 beer. A lawsuit filed on behalf of Aspen Wine & Spirits is challenging the decision.

An Aspen liquor store wants to see a recent Local Licensing Authority decision to give Clark’s Market a license to sell 3.2 beer overturned.

A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Pitkin County District Court by attorney Richard Neiley Jr. on behalf of Aspen Wine & Spirits, which is located in the North Mill Station building, about 30 feet away from Clark’s Market. The two businesses are separated by a large hallway.

The Local Licensing Authority, an appointed body of the city of Aspen, granted the license at its Aug. 7 meeting through a 4-1 vote. Clark’s, like many other grocery stores across Colorado, wants to ultimately benefit from a new state law allowing retailers that are licensed to sell 3.2 beer — which is considered to be “low-strength” in terms of alcohol content — to automatically expand its offerings to full-strength beer beginning Jan. 1. 

A spokeswoman for City Market, which already has a 3.2 beer license and sells the lower-strength beer, has said that its Aspen store plans to convert to the higher-strength suds come Jan. 1. The new measure was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in June, and erases a Prohibition-era law that prevented most Colorado grocery and convenience stores from offering anything but the 3.2-percent-or-less variety. Lobbyists for liquor stores and other types of opponents fought the change, to no avail.

Neiley’s complaint states that Clark’s Market, whose corporate name is Aspen Grocery Inc., applied for the license while claiming that “the demand for 3.2 beer was not being met in its neighborhood.” According to the complaint, Aspen Grocery’s motive in seeking the license has never been to sell 3.2 beer.

“The real purpose of Aspen Grocery’s application for a Fermented Malt Beverage License was not to fulfill a claimed need for the sale of ‘3.2 beer’ in its neighborhood, but to be able to sell full-strength beer at its location in the [North Mill Station building] as of January 1, 2019, when revisions to [state law] go into effect,” the suit says.

Previous: Aspen stores taking steps to sell full-strength suds

The complaint cites state law, which says that before granting any license, “all licensing authorities shall consider … the reasonable requirements of the neighborhood” and the desires of its adult inhabitants. In granting the 3.2 beer license to Aspen Grocery, the Local Licensing Authority “did not consider the reasonable requirements of the neighborhood but instead followed a policy of granting all applications and improperly approved the application.”

According to the suit, “There is no unfulfilled need for an additional ‘3.2 beer license’ in the city of Aspen and that product will no longer be available in the city of Aspen” beginning Jan. 1. 

“In its Liquor License Application, Aspen Grocery failed to identify the geographic neighborhood the needs of which are not being reasonably fulfilled by other licensed retailers, including Plaintiff,” the complaint states.

The suit points out the licensing authority’s stated policy of “approving all liquor license applications … regardless of the applicant’s demonstration that the reasonable requirements of the neighborhood were not being met.” The complaint contends that such policies violate state law “and cannot serve as a basis for the approval of an application for an off-premises retail Fermented Malt Beverage license.”

The chairman of the Local Licensing Authority, according to the suit, stated at the meeting that the board has always “let the market decide. …We have never in the past denied somebody a license because we’ve perceived that the need of the neighborhood has not been met.”

The suit additionally states that the complaint was filed pursuant to Colorado’s Rule 106, which says that decisions made by government bodies acting in a quasi-judicial role are reviewable by district courts provided there is no other plain and speedy remedy.

City Attorney Jim True said Wednesday afternoon he had a copy of the lawsuit but hadn’t read it yet. He declined comment on the matter.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.

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