Gov. Polis amends last call order as business owners raise questions

Kevin Alexander picks out some beer at The Liquor Store in Montrose on Thursday, December 20, 2018. A new executive order from Gov. Jared Polis forces establishments licensed for on-site consumption to cease sales at 10 p.m.

Citing data indicating an uptick in coronavirus cases among the younger population — ages 20-29 — Gov. Jared Polis issued an executive order on Tuesday requiring establishments to stop alcohol sales at 10 p.m. each day, a four hour bump from the traditional last call at 2 a.m.

Late Thursday night, Polis issued an amendment to the order from Tuesday. After applying the order to all establishments with liquor licensees in Articles 3, 4, and 5, the order now applies to establishments licensed for on-premise consumption. Those establishments — bars, taverns, restaurants — must stop alcohol sales between 10 p.m. - 7 a.m., but can remain open until their usual closing time.

Also, the order allows those licensees to deliver alcohol sales after 10 p.m., but takeout sales are not permitted past that time.

The order took effect Thursday and will be in place for 30 days.

Grocery, retail, and liquor stores are able to continue alcohol sales until last call.

During a briefing on Tuesday, Polis explained his reasoning behind the initial order.

“Smaller corrections like these, coupled with responsible behavior from Coloradans from all ages, but particularly here talking about 20-29, is what’s going to make the difference,” Polis said.

Polis also attributed the recent spikes to house parties among the younger crowd.

“This is not the summer to party,” Polis said. “There will be a time to party when there is a vaccine or cure.”

Montrose Police Chief Blaine Hall said the city would be ambassadors for local establishments affected by the order.

“We’re hoping for voluntary compliance. I think that as a city, we’re wanting again to be ambassadors and try to inform our businesses of the order, and help them keep their liquor licenses and be safe,” Hall said.

Additional reasons Polis shared included a reduction of inhibitions leads to a lapse in social distancing and mask wearing, which is something that “Colorado can not afford without risking a setback to our economy, a setback for kids returning to school, and of course, a loss of life.”

By being inebriated in a public setting, it’s inconsistent with social distancing, he added. People are welcome to stay out as long as they wish, but by moving up the last call law, the order should help discourage nightlife and decrease inebriation in public settings.

Also during the briefing, Polis revealed additional data that helped him make the decision:

• At least 5% of the business for bars occurs after 10 p.m.

• In April and May, bar traffic reduced 80% from 2019.

• In June, traffic increased, and in early July, people started to return to bar environments, which Polis believes is one of the reasons as to why community spread has increased.

Before learning about Thursday’s amendment to the initial order, John Logan, a manager at Beer Barn II in Montrose, said sales are fairly consistent throughout the day, and moving last call up two hours — last call at liquor stores is midnight — would affect operating hours and sales during that time. Logan said that was likely to be the order’s lone negative impact on the store. But the order would affect businesses across the board nonetheless, he said.

He mentioned that the order could keep people at home and limit the night scene.

“I think if you’re trying to get a curfew in effect and a reason to keep people from coming out of their homes, this is going to do it,” Logan said.

However, Logan did raise some questions about the order. Although the order applies to restaurants, people can still order an alcoholic beverage right before 10 p.m., and sit there for multiple hours until closing time, still socializing, he said.

Logan added only time will tell if the order itself worked and prevented further COVID-19 transmission. For now, he’s on the fence if it will be an order that proves efficient.

“I’m not sure it’ll be impactful on limiting the spread of COVID-19 at all,” he said.

Blake Street Tavern, a sports bar in Denver, announced on Twitter, along with 200 restaurants and bars across Colorado, as part of the Tavern League, it filed a lawsuit against the governor and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment in response to the order.

Blake Street Tavern owner Chris Fuselier told CBS4News in Denver that Polis “was absolutely in the wrong.”

Within the complaint, the Tavern League argues people will find no motivation in watching a sports contest at an establishment if drinks will be cut off halfway through. The complaint, filed on Wednesday before the order amendment on Thursday, said Coloradans will simply stock up before 10 p.m at liquor stores and watch from home in large viewing parties, something Polis stated isn’t encouraged at the moment.

Fuselier sent out a tweet calling the amendment to the order “another gut punch” from the governor, believing customers will leave bars at 10 p.m. to go to liquor stores.

An establishment that won't experience too much backlash from the order is Niko's Tavern in Montrose. Owner Bob Nelson said the tavern hasn't tried to make big plans since reopening a month ago. Rather, Nelson prefers to take it slow until things start to pick back up again. 

Also, the tavern has been closing at 11 p.m. Nelson plans to close the tavern at 10 p.m. for the duration of the order, and doesn't think losing the extra hour will have a huge impact. 

He did mention the order will slow down the portion of the industry that relies heavily on operating past 10 p.m. 

"It's tough for everybody," Nelson said. 

The governor did provide some hope for the future for establishments in favor of extending last call past 2 a.m. He hopes local counties can have last calls that stretch beyond 2 a.m. once there is a vaccine for COVID-19.

“I’m very irritated by last call laws,” Polis said. “Nightlife is an important part of our culture."

Hall said the city recognizes the establishments as an “important part of our community,” and there’s a willingness to help if any questions arise, which can be directed to Montrose County Public Health.

“It’s not a favorable situation for any type of business that has to limit its hours. From the city perspective, we just want to do the best we can and work with the businesses and help them as best as possible when these orders come out,” Hall said.

Josue Perez is a staff writer for the Montrose Daily Press

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