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Liquor stores suggest state reimbursement

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In this June 16, 2016, file photo, bottles of wine are displayed during a tour of a state liquor store, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Package liquor stores are asking New Mexico to reimburse a portion of their licensing fees amid the public health orders that have kept them from operating – a request state officials say they will consider.

More broadly the stores are questioning the fairness of having to close while larger out-of-state competitors, such as grocery and convenience stores, remain in operation.

In a letter to the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control division, attorney Mark Rhodes, who represents the Independent Liquor Retailers of New Mexico, said package stores have been unable to use their liquor licenses or sell tens of millions of dollars in inventory since the mandated closures of nonessential businesses in March.

At a minimum, he said, the state should reimburse the stores’ fees for each day of the closure.

Adam Derizotis, chairman of the Independent Liquor Retailers, said the new group formed after the mandated closures and will advocate for the industry, which includes more than 170 stores throughout the state.

Members of the organization include the owners of Kokoman and Susan’s in Santa Fe; Jubilation, Kelly, Quarters and Paradise in Albuquerque; and other establishments.

“Everybody in this group is a multi-generational New Mexican family who has their entire life savings or livelihood wrapped up in their business,” said Derizotis, who owns Zia Liquors in Farmington. “We’re not big corporations.”

Bernice Geiger, a spokeswoman for the state Regulation and Licensing Department, said the state is considering the partial reimbursement of annual fees. But making a decision on refunds may be premature at this point, she said, given that the length of the closure isn’t known yet.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration ordered the closure of nonessential businesses in late March to limit the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Grocery stores, pharmacies and limited number of other businesses were allowed to stay open as “essential” businesses.

The governor has repeatedly said the public health orders, while painful, treat businesses equally based on the kind of services they offer, not their size or ownership.

The liquor retailers say the effect of the orders – even if not intended – is that their competitors can sell beer, wine and other alcoholic drinks while the package stores can’t.

The stores are also unable to offer curbside pickup like other retailers because of prohibitions in the state’s liquor laws – a change that would require legislative action.

The governor last year vetoed a bill that would have allowed the home delivery of beer and wine with food orders.

Andrew Vallejos, the state’s director of Alcoholic Beverage Control, said in a recent letter to liquor licensees that their cooperation with the rules will help keep New Mexicans safe.

“We know it has been hard on businesses,” he said, “but we look forward to that point where we will be able to safely reopen.”

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