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What’s it like to work at a liquor store in Utah during the holidays? Robert Gehrke gets to taste.

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“Do you have any bourbon ice cream?”

I’ve only been working for about 45 minutes and I’ve been very confused.

Not only am I not sure if the store has bourbon ice cream, but I’ve never even heard of it (though it sounds interesting).

“I really don’t work here,” I tried to explain.

“So you’re just storing bottles for fun?” The customer asked, what a mistake.

I went looking for someone who could help him, instead of delving into the complicated explanation which is: Why November meeting of Alcoholic Beverage Control Bureau, executive director Tiffany Clason invited DABC commissioners to work shifts at a liquor store so they could appreciate what it feels like to juggle hoarding and selling millions of dollars in holiday booze. madness.

Although I wasn’t on the committee (just a hint in case Governor Spencer Cox was wondering what to buy me for Christmas), I was intrigued, so I made arrangements. do a “shift”—only two hours, actually—to see how it goes.

At least it might give me something to think about when The Salt Lake Tribune finally gets sick of me.

They set up a liquor store for me at 300 West, possibly the most expensive and best-selling store in the state. These people know their stuff, so it’s a good place to learn, but may not reflect typical experience.

I also worked with Jacquelyn Orton, a DABC commissioner, who graciously accepted Clason’s proposal. That night was her second night at the liquor store and she has three future dates at other locations.

“I want to understand what people in the stores are doing or going through. … I want to talk to customers and employees. I enjoyed meeting the staff,” Orton said at the end of our assignment. “I think it’s fun to talk to employees and get them and customers to listen to what they have to say. Kind of like flying over the wall. I really enjoy that.”

Clason, who is helping us at the store, said nearly all of the commissioners scheduled visits to stores around the valley within 24 hours of her offering.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jacquelyn Orton, Commissioner of Alcoholic Beverage Control, talks about her role helping in line at the State Liquor Store in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 9. 12 year 2021.

The work itself is, as you might expect, rather tedious.

An assistant manager walked me through the normal queuing process, walking the aisles with a digital scanner, looking for shelves that might be running low, and scanning barcodes. The scanner detailed the bottles that needed to be replenished and pulled out a printout of the list. Next, we went to the back, pulled the bottles and loaded them onto a handcart.

We’ll put the boxes in front of the display where the bottles need to go and then move from case to case, cutting open the top and stuffing the bottles in the empty spots. Then repeat the process: squat, slice, stock, stand, squat, slice, stock, stand.

After a dozen cases, the knee starts to feel it.

There weren’t any shipments coming in while I was at work, but the next night the store received 1,000 new cases that had to be unloaded, stocked and stocked, Orton told me. I also missed preparing orders to be picked up by bars and restaurants and I was fine just standing back and watching staff check IDs and ring sales.

None of that is terrible work, nor is it the greatest job on earth. And until recently, the full-time starting salary for these liquor store workers was $11.32 an hour very little. So it’s not surprising that employees don’t work for so long.

Sales at a single store are a staggering 140% per year and network-wide is 86%, which means that the employee does not have much experience. If you shop at DABC stores often, you’ve probably noticed. It was also cost the state $1.2 million to recruit replacement workers and train them.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Tribune news columnist Robert Gehrke got a bit of behind-the-scenes experience working shifts at the Salt Lake City Liquor Store on Thursday, Feb. December 9, 2021.

It’s indicative of a paradox at the heart of Utah’s liquor distribution system: Unlike other public service agencies, DABC sells a product and makes a profit — a big profit. Last year, division made $215 million in profit over half a billion (with a B). It’s unclear what percentage of sales are bourbon ice cream.

It was expected to operate like a business, but unlike any other, it had to turn to the Legislature to do something as simple as fix wages for employees.

That may be changing.

This early year, Legislature passes bill to increase starting wages $2 per hour. Going forward, wages will automatically adjust each year to meet the average Utah salary for retail employees.

“It fundamentally changes the way these employees are paid,” says Clason. “Instead of having to wear a hat in your hand every year [saying], ‘They need a raise, they need a raise, they need a raise’, “from here on, it’s going to take them to market, at least to where it competes with Target and Walmart and everyone else. “

Clason said it is difficult to know in the context of the pandemic, the labor shortage is still active or not.

Hopefully that happens and the customer experience at these state-run monopolies improves and we realize the value these employees bring. Because I spent even a short time in one of these shops, I have come to understand better what they do – as well as appreciate bourbon ice cream.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/workplaces/2021/12/15/whats-it-like-working/ What’s it like to work at a liquor store in Utah during the holidays? Robert Gehrke gets to taste.

Ryan Perry

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