LONE TREE, Colo. — When Colorado lawmakers return to the Capitol Tuesday, along with debating deep budget cuts and finishing up previous legislation, they will also be looking to introduce some bills to help the state recover from COVID-19.
One of the bills Sen. Kevin Priola is planning to introduce will extend an executive order that allows restaurants to sell alcohol to go.
“I’ve heard from a number of people in the restaurant industry both inside Adams County and outside Adams County that are really hurting and struggling right now because their cash flow has been crushed by the stay at home order,” said Sen. Priola.
When the stay at home order went into effect in Colorado, many restaurants saw their sales decrease dramatically. Matt Trostle, the owner of the Clock Tower Grill, said his sales dropped down to five percent of his normal business.
“I did close down for a short period of time because it didn’t make any sense for me to have anyone on payroll if I was actually losing money by staying in business,” Trostle said.
However, in an effort to help restaurants earn money, Governor Polis signed an executive order allowing them to start selling alcohol as part of their take-out and delivery services.
The decision doubled the amount of sales Trostle was making.
“It actually enabled me to stay open,” he said.
Clock Tower Grill is not alone; restaurant after restaurant has told Denver7 the alcohol sales have helped dramatically.
For Rio Grande Mexican Restaurants, a place known for its margaritas, alcohol normally makes up more than 40 percent of the sales.
“We are a business that bridges the bar, restaurant divide,” said CEO Jason Barrett.
The ability to sell those margaritas to customers to enjoy at home has helped keep loyal clients coming in by allowing the restaurant to offer the same food and margarita services patrons could get by dining in.
“It certainly has provided us some stability, financial stability in this crisis,” Barrett said.
According to a Colorado Restaurant Association survey, 87 percent of restaurants are earning revenue through alcohol take out and delivery services.
CRA also conducted a poll in May and found that 85% of the adults surveyed were in favor of the policy being extended.
However, the executive order only lasts for 30 days at a time. Sen. Priola is hoping to help offer some stability for restaurants by extending the order out for another two years.
“We don’t know what the future is going to look like and so extending the alcohol to go and delivery allowances for Colorado restaurants for a two year period, while we’re trying to get through this recovery, I think would be key to restaurants surviving,” CRA president and CEO Sonia Riggs said.
The bill itself will still need the leadership in the legislature to sign off on it because it is being introduced so late in the session.
Sen. Priola says he understands some groups don’t like the idea like liquor stores that are used to selling the bulk of alcohol for people to take home.
Riggs doesn’t believe the ability for restaurants to sell alcohol is actually hurting liquor stores.
“Despite restaurants being able to do this, liquor stores are up year over a year from where they were. I don’t see this is harming them. I see it is just really giving an opportunity for a critically important industry, the restaurant industry,” Riggs said.
However, Sen. Priola believes liquor stores understand the dire financial situations restaurants are facing and how a temporary law like this could help. Beyond that, Sen. Priola says the times are changing.
“I think the time has come to start adjusting liquor law, much of it has been in place since the 1930s,” he said.
Barrett believes the change could prove to be a practical sales model for restaurants moving forward and could even cut down on some drunk driving since people will be able to take their favorite specialty beverages home to enjoy instead of having to drink them on site.
“We’re all learning a new dance through this whole process and alcohol to go might be one of these things where not only does it help the businesses that are hurt most by this crisis, restaurants, but also creating an opportunity,” Barrett said.
Riggs hopes lawmakers will see as they debate the bill that it could offer additional opportunities for sales tax revenue for cities and counties that are also struggling.
Back at Clock Tower Grill, customers are starting to be allowed to dine-in once again. Still, Trostle says business is only about 30 percent of what it used to be. For now, he’s looking for any advantage he can find to try to stay in business and keep his employees on the payroll.
“For us being able to increase our business in any way, shape or form right now is the only chance we have to stay in business as the little guys,” Trostle said.