Mad Minis

Are tiny liquor bottles destined to go the way of the drive-thru?

They go by various names: shooters, minis, airplane bottles and nips. They’re individually packaged single servings of booze, economical in size for anyone looking for a cheap, quick shot.

They're everywhere in Santa Fe, including parking lots, roadsides, arroyos and gutters, and that's why city Councilor Signe Lindell is proposing a ban on their sale.

Lindell's 20th anniversary of sobriety is approaching this June, she says. It's not a teetotaler mentality behind the idea, she notes, however. Her target is reducing liquor-bottle litter across the city.

But, she adds, if the ordinance has the unintended consequence of reducing alcohol-related harms, all the better.

"If we have a positive effect on that with this ordinance, that's wonderful," says Lindell, a first-term councilor who represents District 1 in downtown and north Santa Fe. "But the motivation on it is to keep Santa Fe beautiful."

State government maintains jurisdiction over liquor laws in New Mexico, preventing local governments from imposing their own rules restricting alcohol sales. But Lindell says a local government can choose to ban the sale of alcohol packages smaller than 8 ounces if the bottles pose as a nuisance or livability issue.

The sale of minis is already banned along the Airport Road stretch in Southside Santa Fe, a rule implemented in January 2013 after District 3 Councilor Carmichael Dominguez spearheaded what's known as the Airport Road Overlay District, which imposes rules on businesses in the corridor that are meant to encourage healthy living for the historically low-income district. Lindell's bill, which has co-sponsorship from councilors Bill Dimas, Patti Bushee, Peter Ives and Dominguez, would make the rule apply throughout the city.

Local liquor retailers are split on the issue.

Steve Jones, operations manager at Susan's Fine Wine and Spirits, says he sees the minis strewn about everywhere in the parking lot of the strip mall where the store is located.

"We don't deal with a lot of minis," says Jones. "That's just a necessary nuisance, I guess. Personally, we're in favor of it [the ordinance]."

Many stores and gas stations make a bigger business of minis, including the Giant near the Cerrillos-St. Francis intersection, just blocks away from Susan's. At Owl's Liquors, a few blocks down St. Francis Drive in the other direction, a display of various-sized shooters sits behind the check-out counter, with bottom-shelf brands priced at 99 cents and top-shelf brands as much as $5.

Hector Veleta, manager at Kelly's Liquor Barn, says banning the sale of minis would have an impact on the Cerrillos Road store's bottom line. At least 15 percent of sales are minis, he says, adding that "we're going to lose some business."

The store sells between 80 and 90 brands of the tiny bottles, he says.

Veleta acknowledges that minis are littered "all over the place." Customers, he says, buy minis because they often don't have enough money to purchase larger containers of alcohol. But he says the proposal could have the consequence of increasing consumption because customers will purchase those larger-sized containers.

"A lot of people are not working now," he says.

Meanwhile, first-term state Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Santa Fe, introduced a memorial in the state legislature that calls on lawmakers to appropriate money to a handful of state agencies so they can conduct a study on the on the impact of establishing a minimum price for the sale of alcohol in the state, as is done in Canada and parts of Europe in order to reduce consumption. The state agencies would have to report to the legislature by the end of this year if the memorial passes. State lawmakers could then use that research to decide if a minimum-pricing law would be effective in tackling New Mexico's alcohol-related problems.

Back in Santa Fe, the process to ban minis could move at a faster clip. Councilors are scheduled to talk about it during a Feb. 23 committee hearing with a potential final vote before the City Council as soon as April 8.

With five sponsors, the ordinance appears to have a good chance of passing the nine-member body. That's good news for Lindell, who calls them "bad news in a bottle."

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