Payson will soon have another place to buy liquor, but with a difference -- when it opens, the Beverage House will feature fine wines and offer wine tastings.
The town council approved the granting of a liquor license to the new store by a 4-2 vote at its last meeting. Councilors Robert Henley and Tim Fruth voted against the application and Councilor George Barriger was absent.
During an extended public hearing, Bill Tonstad, owner of Rim Liquor, argued that the license should be denied.
"Payson today has over a dozen establishments that provide packaged liquor," Tonstad told the council. "This will have a negative impact on all the existing stores."
Tonstad also noted that Beverage House, a 12-store Arizona chain, has more than 20 violations for selling to minors, will undercut the prices of its competitors, and is applying for a type-6 bar license when it doesn't have a bar or somewhere for people to sit and drink.
Eli Drakulich, the agent for Beverage House, which will be located at 111 E. Highway 260 in the Payson Center (Goodwill), explained that the company needs that type of license to accommodate wine tastings.
"Every other Wednesday each store does a free tasting," Drakulich said.
"Sometimes the distributors will come in; we've had wine makers come in; we had Robert Mondavi come in and do a tasting.
"Being able to taste something before they buy it has a lot of appeal for customers," he added.
In a lighter moment, Henley asked Drakulich to define "fine wines."
"Wine is a moving target," Drakulich said. "What's a fine wine to one person is a cheap wine to another person.
"Primarily because of my mother and aunt we buy a $7 bottle of white wine. Some people wouldn't be caught dead with a $7 bottle of wine. It's a hard term to define."
"Well thanks for trying," Henley responded.
But in the end, Henley voted against the application, in part because of the company's violations.
"I am concerned about that and was concerned about the previous applicant (the Maverik convenience store on Highway 87)," he said. "I did not vote in favor of that and I won't vote in favor of yours."
Curiously, it was Councilor Dick Reese, who strongly opposed the Maverik license, who championed the Beverage Store's application.
"I'll support this application, and I'll do so because I'm a free enterprise individual who respects competition," Reese said. "Perhaps more important, I'm intrigued that this appears to me to be an upscale situation. I like the idea at that location."
Beverage House, which is based in Sierra Vista, currently operates 12 stores -- three in Tucson, two each in Sierra Vista and Yuma, and single stores in Douglas, Nogales, Globe, Safford and Casa Grande.