Eighty years of a Richmond family business may come to an end with the termination of the store’s state liquor license earlier this week.
“My uncle was doing what he shouldn’t have been doing, and in the long run it cost us our license,” said Justin Harris, the grandson of Terry Nivison, who owns the state liquor store package agency in Richmond. While the family still has a chance to keep the business, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has revoked Nivison’s license, effective May 15.
On Tuesday Harris and Nivison appeared as requested at the monthly meeting of the DABC commission.
The appearance was to discuss the violations Harris’s uncle, a former liquor store employee, had been cited for earlier in April. The violations included selling alcohol to minors, consuming alcohol while at work, and having open containers of alcohol in the store.
Before the citation, Harris’s uncle had also been living in the residence above the liquor store. During the commission meeting, Harris and his grandfather informed the commissioners that following the citations they had immediately terminated the employment of his uncle, changed the locks and cleaned up the store.
“He knew that his job was done when the officer told him what he had done,” Nivison said of his son during the commission meeting.
Moving forward, Nivison told the commission that Harris would be the new manager of the liquor store. When a commissioner asked Harris what his qualifications were, Harris said he had grown up in the building.
“I’ve stocked the shelves and hauled cardboard and done maintenance on the building my whole life,” Harris said.
Nivison said he would play an advisory role to Harris as he managed the store and that they would complete the background check necessary for Harris to be employed as manager there.
According to the information shared during the meeting, these were the first violations at the Richmond liquor store. However, commissioners said they were still concerned because with multiple violations recorded at once, they believed this kind of activity likely occurred other times as well.
Rather than allowing Nivison to maintain the liquor license with Harris as a new manager, commissioner Thomas Jacobson proposed a different solution.
“The concept is to provide Justin the opportunity to be the operator, really in the long run,” Jacobson said. “As cruel as this may sound, it would seem to me that the best thing to do … would be for us to actually terminate the agreement, put it out again for bid.”
Jacobson said that Harris would then be able to submit an application, and if he had the best qualifications he could then receive the liquor license.
“That might be the best situation for everybody,” Jacobson said. “Then we could contract directly eventually with Justin, or if somebody is actually better, then that person would be the person we contract with.”
Harris said he plans on applying for the liquor license, but he is concerned he may not get it, which would put an end to the family business his great-grandfather purchased in 1939.
“I am worried that somebody else could possibly get it,” Harris said.
When it comes to the meeting on Tuesday, Harris said he wishes he had had a better idea about what was going to be discussed beforehand.
“We had no clue what we were going into,” Harris said. “We didn’t know that it was even to discuss what had happened at the store. We just got a phone call saying for my grandpa and I to be in Salt Lake on Tuesday.”
If he had known possible termination of the license was going to be discussed, he said he would have brought in photos of the store after he had cleaned it up, and he would have been better prepared to discuss his and his grandfather’s business plan moving forward.
Terry Wood, public information officer for the department, said that in addition to the phone call Harris and Nivison received, the department also sent a letter explaining the purpose of the meeting.
In a copy of this letter The Herald Journal obtained, the first paragraph outlines the violations against Utah state liquor law in the Richmond store.
The second paragraph states that “the contract you have with the Department states that your contract may be terminated for good cause.”
The paragraph explains that the violations mentioned in the letter can be considered good cause and that “the status of your package agency contract will be discussed by the commission on April 30, 2019.”
The letter would have been addressed to Nivison as the license holder and was intended to give him a better idea of what the commission wanted to discuss with him at the meeting.
However, Harris said this letter never reached his grandfather, and that Nivison has had problems with written communications like this from the department in the past.
“We have always had trouble with getting the stuff in the mail from them,” Harris said. “It’s always constant battles.”
The commission gave Nivison and Harris until May 15 to shut down the business. Harris said by the end of this week, the application for the new license should be posted. The commission must provide 30 days’ notice that the license is available before they select a new licensee.
“All I can do is have my fingers crossed and hope that I can get the license back so I can keep the Richmond liquor store open and operating in my family,” Harris said.