Steamboat Springs Recession, declining sales tax revenues, empty storefronts downtown?
At least five new liquor establishments have received their liquor license or a set a hearing for one in recent weeks, showing that business owners are confidently moving forward in at least one sector of the local economy that’s going relatively strong: liquor sales.
On Tuesday night, Steamboat Springs City Council, acting as the city’s Liquor License Authority, approved licenses for 7th Street Liquor, which is shooting for a holiday opening next to the Space Station gas station and convenience store in downtown Steamboat Springs; Vintage Wine and Cocktail Bar, planning an early January opening in Torian Plum Plaza at the base of Steamboat Ski Area; and T Bar, which is planning to open soon in a small building, formerly a Steamboat Ski Patrol facility for injured skiers and snowboarders, next to a parking lot adjoining the former location of Thunderhead Lodge.
Last month, the City Council approved a license for Fifty 5 Degrees of Steamboat, a professional wine storage facility on Copper Ridge Drive.
Also Tuesday, the City Council set a hearing date for Bella’s, which is seeking a tavern liquor license for its 737 Lincoln Ave. location. Lisa Ciraldo-Freese and Denise Ciraldo, of Moonstruck LLC, are applying for the license.
Recent sales tax collections support the idea that liquor sales continue to be a relatively profitable venture. The city collected $40,739 in sales taxes from liquor stores in October, a decrease of only about 13 percent from the $46,959 collected in October 2008. Compare that with a nearly 28 percent decrease in October sales tax from miscellaneous retail, a more than 23 percent decrease in lodging sales tax, and a more than 20 percent decrease in restaurant sales tax, and the numbers for liquor look pretty good.
Only sporting goods and utilities showed less of a sales tax decline in October compared to a year ago, at 10 and 11 percent decreases, respectively.
“That’s one of the main reasons we’re doing this,” said Danielle Hubler, owner of the under-construction 7th Street Liquor. “It’s not quite a recession-proof business, but it’s about as close as you can get.”
Hubler said she hopes her store’s location neighboring the Space Station will provide convenience for customers seeking multiple items — think food, gas and a six-pack — in one stop downtown.
Setting up the store has been a communal activity.
Hubler painted the walls, and her husband, Cugino’s Pizzeria & Italian Food owner Jeff Hubler, built much of the shelves and interior along with Cugino’s manager Carlos Gonzalez and his son, Chris Gonzalez.
Space Station operator Eric Dorris said he is excited about his new neighbor.
“I can’t wait,” Dorris said. “The more we evaluated what could go in here, a liquor store made the most sense.”
Karen Riggio said despite the largely vacant Ski Time Square and declining restaurant sales, she sees a fit for the Vintage Wine and Cocktail Bar in Torian Plum next to Terry Sports.
“Obviously, that was a large number of beds that has vanished in the area … but I think there’s enough going on at the base area in the winter that we can capture an audience,” she said. “We’re looking at it as an enhancement to Torian Plum … it was our feeling that we would enhance that plaza by adding another place to go. We’ve had a really good reception from other business owners in the area.”
Riggio said the bar will be open daily from afternoons through evenings, offering upscale cocktails with premium wells and small plates including crusty breads, hearty soups and stews, cheeses and desserts.
“It’s going to be an intimate, small, cozy lounge with a really nice selection of wines by the glass or by the bottle, as well as a full bar,” she said. “We’re going to try to hit a good variety of price ranges.”
Nearby, T Bar will offer wine, beer, sandwiches and small plates at the immediate ski base. John Holloway, a local attorney, is leasing the 773-square-foot space, which he said will have about 15 barstools for customers.
“It’s really tiny,” he said. “It’s really intended to be a quick place to get something to eat and drink for skiers and riders.”
Holloway said the menu cooked up by his son, “Tres” John Holloway III — will start with lunch and après ski and add breakfast items as soon as possible.
Parking for the T Bar will be limited to a portion of the adjacent turnaround.
“We’re hoping that most people ski in and ski out,” Holloway said.
Supply and demand
City records clerk Sabrina James said there are 87 active liquor licenses in Steamboat.
Last week, shortly after the approval of the three new licenses, City Councilwoman Meg Bentley questioned the amount of booze within city limits.
“When is it enough? When do we have enough liquor stores and bars?” Bentley asked council members and city staff Tuesday.
The question was somewhat rhetorical, but City Council President Cari Hermacinski had an answer.
“My perspective is that the economy decides that,” she said.
Danielle Hubler said she is responding to demand.
“It’s obviously a local need,” she said of liquor-related businesses. “Otherwise, the sales tax wouldn’t reflect that."