Liquor store owner: Not fair
April 12, 2020
The sign on the door of Hilltop Bottle Shop in Clovis doesn’t mince words.
Written by the liquor store’s owner Kyle Brewer, the sign reads:
“The Governor of our state has decided that we are not essential. She would rather you go to Walmart with 400 people than come in here with only 7 people. So, we will have to close temporarily. We will update everyone on our facebook page. Thanks for the support and we hope to see you soon.”
Scorn? Little bit, yeah.
Justified scorn? Brewer thinks so.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s most recent order, handed down Tuesday, has shut down smaller New Mexico liquor stores like Brewer’s, located next to S&S Supermarket, which he also owns. But he has no license to sell alcohol at S&S, so he’s out of luck twice over.
Brewer understands that we are in a serious, perhaps even dire, situation with the COVID-19 pandemic. But he sees that Walmart, Walgreen’s, Albertson’s, Stripes and Allsup’s were not required to shut down; those stores can continue to sell liquor as they had been doing before.
Brewer doesn’t understand that. And he’s not happy.
“Oh, definitely frustrating,” he said. “And trust me, it’s not just me. I had a conference call with the liquor co-op — independents that give us the buying power that the big chains have — and all of those guys, they’re all screwed.”
The governor’s office did not reply by late Friday to questions that Brewer and others have raised. The latest public health order did restrict the number of people who can be inside large retail stores and required customers waiting outside maintain a distance of at least 6 feet from other individuals.
“(S)ocial distancing is the sole way New Mexicans can minimize the spread of COVID-19 and currently constitutes the most effective means of mitigating the potentially devastating impact of the pandemic ...,” the governor’s order reads.
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Brewer’s isn’t the area’s only locally owned business shut down while competitors remain open.
Mo Bell, who owns Bella Gardens, had to close her doors on Thursday. It’s devastating for a business that she said does 75 percent of its annual sales between now and early June.
Her customers are not happy either.
“Do you know how many people in this day and time were coming to us to buy vegetables to grow at home, to learn how to grow them so they could self sustain and to KEEP themselves out of the big box stores!?” she wrote on her Facebook page.
“Did you know We limited our store to 3 customers at a time? Did you know We wiped down doors and counters and bathrooms after each customer left.”
The big box stores allowed to stay open have put down tape or created other ways to help customers keep safe distances. But Bell and Brewer argue that smaller stores can do the same. “And they can do it better because they don’t have all the foot traffic,” Brewer said. “I think this could’ve been handled a lot better.”
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Shutting down is a blow to the wallet, and not just for the mom-and-pop-shop owners.
“I have five employees,” Brewer said. “Now they have to go home. We’re going to do our best to try to pay them, but how long is this going to last? … We haven’t even been open a year. We’re just trying to get going.”
Brewer said his initial reaction was to simply defy the shut-down order. He stayed open Tuesday until around 3 p.m., when he received a visit from a state police officer. The officer told Brewer that if he didn’t shut down he would have to pay a $5,000 fine to the State Department of Health, and he could lose his liquor license.
So, Brewer had no choice.
“You have to comply because they control the license,” he said.
Brewer has complained to Santa Fe.
“I’ve emailed the governor,” he said, “and of course, I haven’t gotten a response.”
And he’s urging his customers to try that approach. Taped to the bottom of the sign on his store’s glass door is another one that reads in red print: “Email the governor and tell her you want your liquor store open! governor.state.nm.us.”
Maybe that will work. Brewer said his customers definitely want their store open. Booze in a pandemic, he thinks, hits the spot.
“Honestly,” he said, “that’s the only thing that’s keeping people sane right now.”