Drink up; state wants to up the ante on Series 7 liquor licenses

Series 7 licenses by county:

Apache -- 2

Cochise -- 25

Coconino -- 59

Gila -- 12

Graham -- 7

Greenlee -- 1

La Paz -- 12

Maricopa -- 369

Mohave -- 44

Navajo -- 15

Pima -- 166

Pinal -- 36

Santa Cruz -- 7

Yavapai -- 45

Yuma -- 25

-- Source: Department of Liquor Licenses and Control

PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to make sure that thirsty Arizonans can get a glass of wine or beer when they’re thirsty -- especially at a barbershop, beauty parlor or spa.

Current law allows the Department of Liquor Licenses and Control to issue one Series 7 license for every 10,000 residents of a county. Those licenses allow the sale of beer and wine both for on-site consumption as well as to take home.

But a provision buried in wide-ranging legislation dealing with the liquor industry would mandate one new license every time the population grows by 5,000, at least for the next five years. HB 2337 gained approval of the Senate Committee on Commerce and Public Safety on a 6-1 vote.

It now goes to the full Senate. The House already has approved most other provisions in the bill -- including the additional liquor licenses.

Quotas have existed in the liquor industry for years. It both protects neighborhoods while also ensuring there is not unlimited competition.

“You don’t want proliferation,’’ explained Don Isaacson. He lobbies for the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association, the organization that represents liquor retailers.

“But you want enough to meet demand,’’ he said.

Liquor industry lobbyist Nicholas Guttilla said that one license for every 10,000 residents was fine when they were being issued solely to bars and restaurants that served only beer and wine. That’s no longer the case.

“What they’re doing now is allowing barbershops, salons to serve beer and wine,’’ he said. For example, a beauty shop might want to serve champagne to a prospective bride and her court while they are getting made up for the big event.

But to do that they have to have a Series 7 license.

“There’s none on the open market,’’ Guttilla said.

And it’s not just the bar owners who find themselves coming up empty handed when they apply for a license.

“It has really drained, quote-unquote, the amount of 7s available for traditional purposes,’’ Isaacson said, like restaurants.

But isn’t that the purpose of the quota?

“The quota’s kind of arbitrary,’’ Guttilla responded. “You can make the quota anything you want.’’

And he said the demand for Series 7 licenses shows that quota isn’t working.

There are some other options, at least for some retailers.

For example, the state also issues Series 12 licenses for restaurants. But those licenses are good only for serving alcoholic beverages on premises, meaning no bottled booze can go out the door.

Potentially more significant, a restaurant license is available only to establishments that derive at least 40 percent of their sales from food. A barbershop, spa or beauty salon would not qualify.

The number of Series 7 licenses varies widely around the state. And the effect of the bill, if it becomes law, would depend on how quickly each county is growing.

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