The Arizona House Commerce Committee approved a bill this week that is supposed to help local restaurants expand outdoor dining capacity.
House Bill 2530, sponsored by State Representative Leo Biasiucci, of Lake Havasu City, allows licensed alcohol producers to donate used or excess equipment to bars and restaurants in Arizona. The extra resources would be used to help those small businesses to serve more people outdoors.
The bill still has to go through the state house floor before it reaches the Arizona senate.
Through an email, Biasiucci said the bill’s passing was an “obvious” need for local restaurant owners.
“I don’t think anybody thought the executive orders that have been put into place were going to last this long,” Biasiucci said. “It has been a year now and our restaurants and bars continue to be impacted by dine-in capacity limits. Restaurants, especially the small mom and pops, already have a very thin profit margin.”
Many small restaurants and bars can’t afford the extra costs required to expand outdoor dining options, he said. Some have sought help in the form of donations of equipment from vendors such as alcohol providers, but current law limits distillers from donating more than $500 in equipment. Biasiucci’s bill would expand that limit to $1,500.
The bill isn’t without opposition, though. HB 2530 has been opposed by several alcohol distributors and alliances in Arizona including the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, Republic National Distributing Company of Arizona, Beer & Wine Distributors of Arizona, Wine Spirits Wholesalers Association of Arizona and the Arizona Food Marketing Alliance.
“We’re opposed to this bill simply because it creates an exception for producers of alcohol or their distributors to provide things of value to retailers,” Arizona Craft Brewers Guild Executive Director Rob Fullmer said. “The reason we have that is so that there isn’t a pay to play system for alcohol. I know that the wine growers and distillers are against this bill because our small producers feel like there’s a great competitive market right now and there are a wealth of choices for Arizonans.”
The News-Herald reached out to the Beer & Wine Distributors of Arizona and the Food Marketing Alliance via phone and email, but did not receive a response from any of these organizations as of Friday night.
“I hope we could talk to the bill’s sponsor, Biasiucci,” Fullmer said. “There’s three breweries in Lake Havasu, but two of the three are some of the largest in Arizona. They do a lot of work here in the Phoenix market and they’re not able to simply crank out umbrellas or branded offerings to keep that balance in place. It’s an inequitable situation. I would hope that we speak to representative Biasiucci to help come up with a solution.”
Biasiucci said the bill could help any bar or restaurant including the locally owned mom and pop businesses located in rural Arizona. He added that the mom and pop bar and restaurants have not received any kind of help throughout the covid-19 pandemic.
According to Biasiucci, businesses such as restaurants, bars and mini marts can currently get items donated from alcohol vendors to display including neon lights, banners and display cases. The current limit is $500 per year per business and the bill would expand that amount to $1,500 for vendors to provide outdoor patio furniture and umbrellas.
Biasiucci said his bill was prompted by the pandemic shutdowns, which is why the bill would sunset after two years. The relief the bill would provide, Biasiucciu says, addresses the unintended consequences of the shutdowns and occupancy limits imposed on restaurants, bars and other businesses.
“I hope that this will allow them a chance to generate the business and revenue they once enjoyed before the restrictions were put into place,” Biasiucci said. “You have restaurants that literally went from full capacity to takeout orders only in a blink of an eye. All I want to do is provide these struggling businesses some kind of relief during these unprecedented times.”
Blue Chair and Burgers by the Bridge, both located in the English Village, are two restaurants in Lake Havasu City that notably have outdoor seating.
Danny Finch, owner of Blue Chair, said his restaurant’s outdoor dining area is about 65% of its seating.
“We would love to expand it and we would have to get creative on how to do it,” Finch said. “I noticed that there are a lot of people that don’t have that luxury of a big beautiful patio like we have.”