Home Gas effect A new state law has banned gas stations in a county from selling alcohol. Some have therefore stopped selling gasoline.

A new state law has banned gas stations in a county from selling alcohol. Some have therefore stopped selling gasoline.

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A covered pump in Sabino, which no longer sells gasoline because alcohol sales are much more profitable. (Courtesy of CA Sarath)

A one-paragraph amendment to the state’s New Radical Alcohol Reform Act of the state legislature has given McKinley County gas station owners a choice: you can sell hard liquor or hard liquor. ‘gasoline.

For Benjamin Gonzales, manager of the El Sabino’s grocery store and gas station in Vanderwagen, it was “obvious”.

“We stopped selling gasoline on July 1, the day the new liquor law came into effect.”

The store is one of at least three in the county to have its gas pumps covered with plastic in recent months, a direct response to the law, according to store workers, residents and county officials. Gas stations were prohibited by law from selling alcohol in the county, so stations stopped selling gasoline to circumvent the ban.

The choice to stop selling gasoline in rural areas of the county has blocked some motorists and added another inconvenience to life near the Navajo Nation border, residents said.

It also demonstrates the difficulty for lawmakers in crafting policy to help reduce alcoholism and impaired driving in the region, two plagues that claim dozens of lives in the county each year.

State Senator George Muñoz, D-Gallup, who pushed for the amendment, said the choice of gas stations to close “was not unexpected.” But he said it represents a choice made by owners to put profits over essential service.

“I think they made a moral choice, a financial choice. They probably weren’t pumping that much gas, ”he said. “They were just liquor stores with a gas pump outside.”

“Money wins”

A county gas station sells 80 gallons of vodka a day, Muñoz said. Gonzales said the El Sabino station was making about $ 8,000 a day selling hard liquor, but roughly $ 2,000 a day for gasoline.

“Everyone is complaining that we should have kept the gas and gotten rid of the alcohol, and this, that and the third, but people just don’t get it,” Gonzales said in a telephone interview. “I mean, if we had done that, a lot of our employees would have lost their jobs, you know, or had their hours cut.”

Now that El Sabino has stopped selling gas, the closest places to refuel along Route 602 are at Zuni Pueblo, about 17 miles southwest, and Gallup, about 21 miles south. North.

As recently as last week, Gonzales said, a car came to a stop at the station, out of gas. He said he had a five gallon tank in the back of the store to help the stranded driver get to Gallup.

The El Sabino convenience store in Vanderwagen no longer sells gasoline but sells alcohol. It was the only place to get gas between Zuni and Gallup. (Courtesy of CA Sarath)

Owner Gigi Garcia said gas was a losing money business at his station. All profits of 8 cents a gallon are lost in wages and maintenance. And she would soon have to purchase new pumps to meet new federal regulations designed to prevent identity theft.

So she blamed Muñoz for the law that gave her the choice between being profitable or not. She also defended alcohol sales, saying she was not doing anything illegal and had chosen to limit alcohol sales somewhat to reduce potential safety risks, even though her license was alcohol would allow more.

“When you buy alcohol or food or whatever you want to buy, it’s your choice …” she said. “There are a lot of people with heart trouble, diabetes, just a lot of different conditions that are also legal to buy… but we’re not going to shut down these things because people are making their own choices.”

Garcia also owns Red Rock Liquor Package at Smith Lake, another McKinley County station, which has also stopped selling gasoline due to the new law, according to an employee.

A third store, Church Rock Speedway, near an area called “Dead Horse”, stopped selling gasoline after the law was passed in March but before it came into effect, according to resident Jennifer Brown , which passes daily in front of the station. The marquee that used to display gas prices now simply reads “COLD BEER”.

Speedway owners did not respond to a request for comment.

Billy Moore, chairman of the McKinley County Commission, said he agreed with the spirit of the law – that mixing gas stations and alcohol is a bad idea. DWI in McKinley County was the driving force behind the statewide ban on drinking and driving sales in 1998.

Moore doesn’t see much of a difference between selling alcohol through a drive-through store window and selling it at the counter of a rural gas station.

“I think it’s pretty sad. We’re trying to help protect people, to bring down DWIs in New Mexico and especially in McKinley County, but, again, money trumps what’s right, ”he said. -he declares.

Great reform

The liquor control law passed in 2021 was the largest reform of the state’s liquor laws in 40 years, officials said at the time of its passage.

74-page bill allows in-state liquor delivery, bans the sale of mini bottles of liquor in convenience stores, creates new class of liquor license for restaurants, and repeals ban on selling alcohol on Sunday mornings, as well as other changes.

Muñoz introduced the amendment that prohibited convenience stores that sell gasoline from selling hard liquor, although they could still sell beer and wine. He said at the time that banning county gas stations from selling alcohol “would help the problem in McKinley County immensely.”

In 2019, McKinley County had the highest rate of alcohol-related car accidents in the state – 20.5 per 10,000 people, according to the state’s Department of Transportation. The county also recorded around 150 alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 population between 2013 and 2017, according to the Department of Health. It is also the highest in the state.

Due to its long-standing alcoholism issues, the County and Town of Gallup have often been at the forefront of state policies to curb alcohol abuse. For example, residents and lawmakers in the late 1980s asked the legislature to allow them to impose an excise tax on alcohol to pay for the treatment of alcohol abuse.

Weeks after the new law came into effect in July, Western Refining Retail LLC sued the state for what it called an “arbitrary” choice to ban alcohol from gas stations in County of. McKinley. At the time, the company had 10 Speedway gas stations in the county.

The lawsuit highlighted that Rio Arriba County has similar problems with alcohol abuse and death, and the rest of the state has its problems as well. The targeting of McKinley County was unconstitutional, lawyers said, and would have a “serious economic impact” on its stores in the county.

The company has since sold its stations in McKinley County and the new 7-11 owners have withdrawn the lawsuit. Representatives for 7-11 did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the lawyers who filed the complaint on behalf of Western Refining Retail.

Now that the impacts of the law have become clear and the lawsuit is withdrawn, Muñoz said he plans to introduce new legislation in the next 30-day session to impose new restrictions on alcohol sales. .

“Now we know what [gas stations’] the main source of income was, and it is, the sale of alcohol, ”he said. “So now we can start to consider restricting them. “

He wants to reimpose the ban on the sale of alcohol on Sunday in McKinley County, he said. He said he did not realize that reform of the Liquor Control Act would mean liquor sales could resume on Sundays in the county.

“It was an unintended consequence that we did not take into legislation,” he said. “We didn’t know this would be repealed in McKinley.”

But he doesn’t have any other reforms in mind, he said, adding that the session will have pressing issues regarding federal stimulus spending and other priorities, so it’s not sure whether he there will be a lot of appetite to review the alcohol policy.

“It’s super embarrassing”

Jennifer Brown and her husband, Jerry, now have to travel 54 miles roundtrip to get gas, after Red Rock Liquor Package and Food Mart closed in Smith Lake near their home.

The trip was approximately 12 miles. Jerry Brown regularly needs five gallons of gasoline to run his chainsaw, Jennifer said.

The station stopped selling gasoline without warning in July, she said, and saw three or four people stranded by the side of the road each day for the first few days.

“We saw a lot of people running out of gas, just people on the side of the road,” she said. “We almost did that first day too, but we made it into town with about five miles to go until empty.”

She said the lack of a nearby gas station continues to make travel difficult for her and her neighbors.

“It’s not like the end of our life, but it’s super embarrassing,” she said. “And he didn’t do what he planned he would do.”

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