Steamboat City Council votes to continue allowing takeout liquor

Beer from Yampa Valley Brewing Co. File photo.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — In an effort to support bars and restaurants that have struggled through COVID-19, Steamboat Springs City Council voted to continue an ordinance relaxing certain liquor laws. Under the ordinance, businesses will be allowed to sell takeout alcohol, and residents will be able to consume it in certain public spaces and in the downtown and mountain areas of Steamboat as well as in some public parks.

The ordinance was passed in June 2020, as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put limitations on how many people could sit inside of a restaurant and how far apart tables needed to be spaced. Council members then voted unanimously on a first reading Tuesday to continue the ordinance through Nov. 30, though they will need to vote on a second reading in the future.

“It gave restaurants a small lifeline to be able to offer guests one more product,” said Nick Sharp, president of the Steamboat Chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “While they have a 45-minute wait, we can have a beer in their hand, and they can walk around downtown rather than having to congregate inside.”

Some council members expressed concern with alcohol-related problems arising from the ordinance, but Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Cory Christensen said the department has not seen this type of increase.

“We were pretty trusting from the beginning; we have a really good community around these things,” Christensen said. “You just know from a public safety perspective that oftentimes alcohol can cause problems, but we weren’t very concerned.”

When the ordinance was first discussed in June, some council members raised concerns about “turning Lincoln Avenue into Bourbon Street,” but Christensen emphasized this was not the case.

While many restaurants were able to seat people outside and transition their outdoor patio to a much larger space, many did not have that option, in part due to Steamboat’s location right along U.S. Highway 40, Sharp said.

“Not everyone can expand their outside situation, because you can’t put tables and chairs where cars are necessary,” Sharp said.

Norma Ruth Ryan, manager at Storm Peak Brewing Co., said while Storm Peak has been able to seat customers outside, the takeout ordinance has helped the brewery sell more to-go beer.

“Our to-go sales have gone up dramatically this past year,” Ryan said.

On a statewide level, Rep. Dylan Roberts, a Democrat from Routt County who now resides in Eagle County and represents both Routt and Eagle counties, is sponsoring a bill that attempts to normalize takeout alcohol sales.

House Bill 21-1027 has received two unanimous votes to move out of separate committees so far and will now move to the appropriations committee. Roberts said he hopes to have it on the house floor sometime next week.

Kara Stoller, CEO of the Steamboat Springs Chamber, said the ordinance has helped keep an industry hit particularly hard by COVID-19 afloat.

“The maximum capacity of people allowed inside and the required 6-foot spacing has been such an incredible challenge for restaurants,” Stoller said. “The public consumption ordinance has been very useful to the restaurant and bar industry for allowing them to make a sale and then individuals can enjoy it right away rather than having to head home immediately.”

In Steamboat, restaurants and bars were down 30% in sales in 2020, according to city of Steamboat Springs sales tax revenue data. Stoller said the ordinance has been a lifeline.

“This industry has been devastated, and anything that can support them from a policy standpoint is critical,” Stoller said. “It’s really important that this city is continuing these ordinances to allow this industry to continue.”

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