Die, Utah, Die | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Die, Utah, Die 

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In the late 1980s, a cover story fell through and at the last minute, I needed a filler. So, I went downtown and took some pictures. I'm a horrible reporter, so I just said what I felt needed to be said in as few words as possible. Those words became the giant headline on the front page of that issue: Die, Utah, Die. As best I recall, the content was those pictures and miserly accounts of businesses that were failing on Block 57—a once vital segment of downtown (between State and Main, from 300 South to 400 South) that had totally gone to the pigeons.

My printer came up to me as the issue went to press and said, "You know you're going to catch hell for this, right?" Yep, I did. The letters came as quick and furious as snail mail can achieve, including one from Mr. Fred Ball, who was the well-respected president of the Salt Lake Chamber at the time. His note was kind—which we ran in the following issue—but that didn't matter as much as knowing that a rinky-dink little paper in Midvale was reaching an audience of people who can make a difference.

I hope we still do. Actually, I know we do, but it's not nice to be mean anymore. So, in the nicest way possible, yeah, Die, Utah, Die. I mean, have you been paying attention to what is happening to our local distilleries and breweries at the hands of the algorithmic operations over at the DABC? They are about to "delist"—meaning remove from their shelves—over 900 items they say are not moving enough product to warrant keeping in stock. Among those 900 items are many spirits and beers produced locally and proudly by the members of Utah's champion distilleries, microbreweries and beer pubs.

It's hard to just blame the DABC, though, it is the machine that moves the booze from barrel to gullet. The DABC is seen to lack heart, but at least it has a brain. It is the fall guy for a state that lets it take the blame for all things liquor, but never the praise. Rather, the blame primarily lies with decades of impotent governmental inertia that demands Utah drinkers overpay their burden to the state and are to be maximized and squeezed for every last profit dollar that will never be returned to them.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in Utah's liquor industry statewide. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually employing persons in that industry. Billions of dollars have poured into Utah as new residents and new industries—especially the banking and the tech sector—have moved here. Does anyone really think they would have come here if Utah was still the parochial backwater it was 25 years ago? Did any business relocate to Utah because it's a "great place to raise a family?" Ever?

Utah would not be where it is economically if not for the relaxing laws that allowed the hospitality, distillery and brewing industries to thrive. Fight me. And the thanks the industry gets is that after that investment, their product is delisted because a computer said so? During a pandemic, no less! The only way a product becomes known is via advertising and marketing. Utah spends zero dollars promoting liquor or liquor brands. Utah spends zero dollars supporting the industry that puts asses on the bar stools that puts plates of food on school lunch trays that adds up to hundreds of millions in a state "rainy day fund" that won't be spent, not even now in COVID-19, assisting the industry that got it there.

In a Kathy Stephenson article in The Salt Lake Tribune regarding this recent purge, Rob Southworth of the DABC said, "low sales mean our customers are not very interested in those products or categories." Not so. For starters, none of us are "your" customers—we have nowhere else to go! As well, those sales don't even consider the "customers" Utah loses to Mesquite, Wendover and Evanston. No industry on the planet could sieve out so many dollars as the Utah controlled liquor industry and survive. Can you imagine the dollars that Utah could generate if not overlorded by algorithms and angels?

Fact: Any liquor that moves off the shelves is due to marketing from local liquor makers. Yet at the end of the day, they are measured against national brands with national marketing budgets. I've seen the delisting list. It's just numbers, not names, full of quotas and controls and plusses and minuses. I look at it and shudder, not knowing which of my friends are among the 900 products soon to be taken off the shelf. To the Utah Legislature, a beer is a wine is a shot of hooch.

Utah needs to get out of the liquor business or die. No other Utah industry gives so much and gets back so little as the liquor industry. We all like our boutique spirits and handcrafted beers. Many are nationwide gold standard products, but not even gold can stand up to a clever accountant with a magical algorithm.

Who knows what will happen to Utah in 25 years? I don't, but I can predict. I predict—for example—if our next governor, be it Cox, Huntsman, Hughes, Wright or that last-standing Democrat, continues to crap on this industry, Utah will empty at the core once again—Salt Lake City, for certain. I'm not a doomsday machine. I'm just old enough to know it's happened before and will happen again. Utah and the DABC are killing our golden goose, but worse, they arrogantly don't care, so, die, Utah, die!

Send comments to john@cityweekly.net

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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