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BLANDING BUSINESSES SAY BAN ON BEER IS DRIVING TOURISTS AWAY

SHARE BLANDING BUSINESSES SAY BAN ON BEER IS DRIVING TOURISTS AWAY

The Shirttail Convenience Store four miles south of Blanding is not large by any standard: a few gasoline pumps and a small store stocked with basic food items.

But an awful lot of Blanding residents do their shopping there. After all, the Shirttail sells something Blanding stores can't offer: beer.Since Blanding was incorporated around the turn of the century, the town has never allowed the sale of beer or any other alcoholic beverages, forcing those who drink to drive elsewhere to buy their favorite brew.

While local beer-drinkers are accustomed to making the four-mile drive to the Shirttail, tourists and travelers are usually unaware of the beer ban. And many tourists are now bypassing Blanding because of it.

According to local businessmen, there are a growing number of cases in which tourists have checked in at local motels, only to check out a short time later and demand their money back when they discover they can't purchase alcohol.

And grocery store owners cite cases in which tourists bound for Lake Powell leave entire carts of groceries at the check-out counter when they discover the store doesn't sell beer.

"We're getting a lot of Italian, German and French groups through here and they expect alcohol. It's part of their lifestyle," said Kim Acton, a city councilman and manager of a local restaurant.

"When they can't get it, they get angry and just walk out. Now, a lot of the bus tours are bypassing Blanding altogether."

Most tourists are not openly critical of Blanding's beer policy, said one community leader. "But they remember the inconvenience, and then tell their friends about it. They don't come back and their friends don't come."

The "no-beer" policy has also made Blanding the subject of considerable ridicule in some state and national publications, particularly those geared toward tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.

"Blanding received a lot of bad press on the beer issue," said City Councilman Steve Palmer. "And that, more than the beer issue, hurts our economic development."

"I'm like most folks here. I don't like being made light of. But the people here are committed to the issue, and we live in a country where we are governed by the voice of the people. If they feel that strongly about it, so be it."

Blanding is one of the few towns left in Utah that has totally banned the sale of alcoholic beverages. It's a ban that has brewed an ongoing controversy that has divided the community. Many local businessmen say they cannot compete with neighboring communities for the tourist trade if they can't sell beer, and Blanding will never grow economically without tourism growth.

Other community leaders, however, maintain that alcohol sales are a moral issue, that prohibiting the sale of alcohol makes it that much more difficult for minors to partake.

San Juan County Commissioner Calvin Black, who owns the Gateway Best Western Motel, is one of the town's most vocal critics of the no-beer policy.

"If we want to be successful in the tourism business, we have to meet the wants and needs of the tourists and set up our businesses accordingly," he said. "If we take the attitude, `We'll sell you what we want and to hell with what you want,' then our business will fail."

Palmer, who supports the people's right to ban beer sales, agrees that the ban "gives the town a black eye" and probably hurts the town's economy. But it probably doesn't hurt as much as some believe.

5000+v "It won't make or break the economy here," Palmer said.

Probably the greatest beneficiary of Blanding's ban on beer sales is Monticello about 25 miles to the north. There are more beer licenses in Monticello than the rest of the county, and officials there say that for every dollar spent on beer, tourists are spending $20 to $30 on other items.

"People don't understand all the other revenue we lose as a community, the gas, the food, the lodging, all because people are avoiding Blanding and stopping in Monticello," said Acton.

While beer sales may make economic sense, the citizens of Blanding have spoken out twice against beer sales. Several years ago, the town voted 629-606 to retain the ban. A second vote on the issue was more decisive: 626 against beer sales, 164 for beer sales.

The chances of the town revoking the ban any time soon are slim, at best. Most in the town are willing to live with the ridicule of outsiders and the anger of some local businessmen.

After all, while economic growth is slow, it is steady and consistent, even with the bad economy nationally. And tourism has never been better.

"Why dwell on it (beer issue)?" Palmer said. "We're not going to spend a lot of time or money overcoming our image on the beer issue. The economy is growing steadily, businesses are doing real well, there's a new business in town and others are remodeling. And there are plans for a new motel and grocery store.

"As a whole, things in Blanding are really looking good."