Spread-out Wait for Jam

Two years: that’s how long it took local owners of Jam In The Marmalade get a liquor license, and for most businesses in Utah, that’s a death sentence.

Jam co-owner Brian Morris purchased the building for the Jam back in 2007, with the promise from the city that by the time the renovations were finished several months later a liquor license would be waiting for them. With that promise in mind, Brian and his crew spent a year making Jam the new hot spot in Salt Lake, complete with a great atmosphere and a location in the newest up-and-coming area of Salt Lake, the Marmalade District.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars later and full renovations completed, Jam went back to the city to get the promised liquor license only to find that they had given them all away. ‘We were devasted and weren’t sure what to do,’ says Brian. Without a liquor license Jam could only sell beer, which has virtually no margin for a business.

Salt Lake’s liquor laws only provide for a limited number of licenses, based off of the population of the area. That law makes it incredibly difficult for any new business to find success, especially a gay-friendly business like Jam whose customers tend to prefer cocktails over beer.

‘We started what would become a nightmare battle with the city for the license, undergoing several different renovations due to new requirements the city kept coming back with, even though they had signed off on our original design.’ These upgrades to the club included changing the location of the front entrance (twice) which cost the owners more than an additional $20,000 by the time it was done.

‘We would go to these Liquor Commission meetings, where the commission took statements and proposals from a dozen different businesses on why they each deserved a license when only one was available. Then the commissioners head off to a back room to deliberate before awarding it.’ Mr. Morris says it’s often impossible to know what criteria the commissioners consider, but often it’s based off of whether or not the commission thinks you can survive a little longer without it.

The community was ready. ‘We’ve had a really faithful client base from the beginning,’ notes Morris, ‘but we were constantly being told by those who came in that their friends weren’t coming with them because we couldn’t serve drinks.’

After a two year battle, Brian and Jam were ready to close their doors. ‘We just can’t afford to keep going,’ Morris says, ‘after they changed the liquor laws last year and did away with private clubs, we were losing even more customers who weren’t willing to settle for a Bud Light.’ But finally, the city and state came back with good news. ‘We finally got our license, after such an enormous battle. To this point we’ve been taking out new loans every month just to keep the business up and running with no profit coming in. I can’t say how relieved I am that this nightmare is over.’

Jam is lucky, they were able to hold out.

By Salt Lake Digs Contributor, Eric Ethington

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