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Economy, Smoking Ban Hurt Montana Liquor Sales

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Growth in liquor sales was tempered in 2009, likely due to the economy and the indoor smoking ban that took effect for bars and casinos in October, state officials said.

Figures from the Department of Revenue’s Liquor Control Division show liquor sales grew 1.9 percent in 2009 after growing at least 5 percent a year over the past decade. The worst month was October, when liquor sales were down $1.5 million compared with the same month in 2008.

“It’s undeniable across the board that the smoking ban had a negative impact on licensed premises,” said Mark Staples of the Montana Tavern Association.

In Yellowstone County, October liquor sales were off 20 percent compared with October 2008.

“What we observed is that people playing a machine will cash out a ticket, go have a cigarette and say, ‘The heck with it,’ and not come back,” said Jim Grubbs, owner of the Amvets Club 90 in Billings.

He said smokers are more likely to return to the bar now, but business hasn’t returned to the level it was at before the smoking ban.

Grubbs also has noticed people are buying more well drinks rather than spending extra for premium brands.

Doug Kirby, who owns a liquor store, has noticed the same thing. He said the sale of premium brands like Crown Royal or Grey Goose vodka has tapered off, with the exception of younger buyers.

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