Booze on the ballot: Utah dry town mulls allowing alcohol

BLANDING, Utah (AP) — The rural Utah city of Blanding, one of the last “dry” communities in the Mormon-majority state, will ask voters Tuesday whether to allow beer and wine sales in town for the first time in more than 80 years.

Even though most locals are Mormon and their faith teaches its members to avoid alcohol, some restaurant and hotel owners say the city of 3,500 people needs to accommodate drinkers and the influx of tourists.

“I think that we shouldn’t be imposing our standards on other people,” said Sharon Guymon, a restaurant owner pushing for the change after years of customer complaints, including tourists sometimes storming out of her steakhouse after being denied a glass of wine.

Opponents of alcohol sales, like longtime resident and health department inspector Rick Meyer, said the prohibition is key to the city’s character and public safety.

“You don’t see anybody drunk walking up and down the streets,” Meyer said.

Blanding is a waypoint for visitors traveling between Denver, southern Utah’s national parks and the Grand Canyon. It’s a conservative community that bills itself as the “Base Camp to Adventure,” on vast desert landscapes nearby, much of which is controlled by the U.S. government. The town itself has been a hotspot in decades-old debates over who controls land in the West, including the newly declared Bears Ears National Monument.

Besides worries about public safety and health, residents opposed to alcohol sales say the prohibition may curb visitors flocking to the area to see the new monument and prevent Blanding from turning into Moab, the red rock outdoor recreation mecca about an hour north that many in Blanding see as an out-of-control tourist trap.

“We want to be able to control the tourism a little more,” said pharmacist Dana Nielson. “Once alcohol is available, that opens it up for all these huge motels and everything. Especially again, with the Bears Ears situation as it is.”

Dallin Redd, owner of a hardware store and a supporter of allowing alcohol sales, said he worries broad opposition in town to the monument may persuade residents who would have otherwise voted for alcohol sales to decide to keep it dry.

“People are pretty nervous about the monument coming in and they don’t like to see a lot of change,” he said.