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Can eliminating ‘shooter-sized’ bottles of liquor reduce crime in Durango?

Police say ‘minis’ lead to littering, public intoxication and are often seen in DUI arrests
Tamara Vermette and Natan Cavalca with Star Liquors, go through the last of the store’s inventory of shooter-sized bottles of alcohol on Tuesday. The store, working in cooperation with Durango Police Department, has agreed to stop selling the small bottles once the inventory is gone. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Durango Police Department is asking local liquor stores to voluntarily phase out selling “shooter-sized” bottles of alcohol, saying they lead to higher rates of littering, drunken driving and public intoxication.

But so far, liquor stores have been reluctant to buy-in. Star Liquors is the only store to date that has agreed to eliminate the shooter-sized bottles.

The 100-milliliter (and less) bottles have become ubiquitous litter as well as the go-to for people imbibing while driving, police said. The department hopes to partner with as many local liquor stores as possible that are willing to stop selling the small bottles..

“We are trying to figure out creative ways to help with the alcohol problem that we have seen here in Durango,” said DPD’s Sgt. Padraic Ingle. “We have high rates of DUIs, and with the majority of the crime we see there’s alcohol correlated with those crimes. So they’re not necessarily the cause, but they definitely work together.”

Whether it is people sneaking a drink in public with a quick nip from a bottle that is easily hidden or drinking and driving, “those little shooters that you can just throw back have become a big problem,” Ingle said.

Star Liquors General Manager Mike Vermette said police visited the store in northeast Durango a few times in recent months to discuss the problem.

“Through talking with them we decided to try to kind of help lead the way in terms of their campaign, to see if we could actually make a difference,” Vermette said. “I’ve lived in Durango for 22 years and you can’t help but see (shooter-sized bottles) everywhere, in the gutters and along the bike path.”

The decision by Star does not come without a price – a loss in sales of approximately $76,000 a year, to be exact – which translates to a loss in income of about $32,000. Star sold about 65,000 “minis” last year.

The store stopped buying inventory a month ago and is selling through its inventory, which is estimated to be gone within a week, though employees told police they would pull shooters from the shelves before that if asked.

Star is family-owned and has been in business and part of the community for nearly 40 years, Vermette said by way of explaining Star’s decision to partner with DPD.

“It just seems like this is an opportunity for us to partner with them and make a difference,” he said. “And I think what they’re hoping is that with us leading the way that perhaps some other retailers might do the same thing.”

An empty shooter-sized (100 milliliter and smaller) bottle of alcohol lies discarded along the bike path on Tuesday. Durango Police Department is asking local liquor stores to voluntarily stop selling the mini bottles. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Vermette said his understanding is that the problem is bigger downtown than where Star is located in northeast Durango. But thus far, DPD has not had any takers downtown.

“We kind of looked at it and really, business-wise, it doesn’t make sense for us to stop selling it (shooter-sized bottles), we’ll just put it that way,” said James Dempsey, owner of Wagon Wheel Liquors located in Town Plaza. “It would be a sizable financial hit for our store. It’s certainly not just a drop in the bucket for us to just stop selling those. And with wine going into grocery stores at this point, for us to walk away from a substantial amount of money by dropping the small bottles is risky for us.”

Dempsey said he also believes the people who regularly buy shooters at Wagon Wheel would just buy the next size up if shooters were no longer sold.

The police effort to bring partners on board is still in its nascent stage and wires seem to be crossed on exactly who has been approached. Several stores, including Liquor World, 6th Street Liquor and W.J. Doyle Wine and Spirits, which DPD said they had contacted, told The Durango Herald they had not been contacted.

Officer Ingle could not be reached Monday or Tuesday to clear up the confusion about exactly whom the police department had contacted, but before that he said “all the liquor stores in Durango are willing to talk with us and willing to come work with us to come up with ideas.”

Vermette pointed out that not selling the shooter-sized bottles is not a new idea and that markets, municipalities and at least one state have banned the sale of 50-milliliter bottles.

Durango Police Department is asking local liquor stores to voluntarily stop selling the mini bottles in an effort to curb public intoxication, drunken driving and littering. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

New Mexico prohibited the sale of “miniature” bottles of liquor for off-site consumption in July 2021. The city of Santa Fe passed a proposal to outlaw the sale of them within city limits six years before the law as part of an anti-littering initiative, but a judge struck down the ordinance, ruling that alcohol laws are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state.

“So this is not reinventing the wheel,” Vermette said. “This is just an idea that was brought up to me. It’s DPD’s campaign, and I applaud them for it.

“They’re trying to make a difference and they’re asking citizens for help,” he said. “Durango PD is trying to engage in an experiment, to see if we can make a difference. They seem to think that this could be good for them and good for the town, and we’re willing to give it a shot.”


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