No change in Coon Rapids off-sale liquor store licensing

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Contributing Writer

No changes will be made in off-sale liquor licensing regulations in the city of Coon Rapids at this time.

A Coon Rapids City Council work session Feb. 14, to which current license holders were invited and spoke, produced no consensus among council members on what changes, if any, should be made.

According to City Manager Matt Stemwedel, there have been inquiries, including from residents, about expanding the number of off-sale liquor licenses from the current eight and also eliminating the current 1-mile radius limit.

The city has been hearing from grocery users about the possibility of a grocery store with liquor sales coming to the city, but that won’t happen under the existing liquor license ordinance, said Grant Fernelius, community development director.

“That’s a huge deterrent right now,” he said.

Besides the eight class A intoxicating liquor licenses, the city also has the ability to issue two class B intoxicating liquor licenses, which have a 2-mile radius limit, a minimum floor area of 50,000 square feet (compared with 2,500 square feet for a class A license), must be secondary to an approved primary use and are limited to beer and wine sales, according to City Clerk Joan Lenzmeier.

The Coon Rapids Costco store is the sole class B liquor license holder in the city, said Mayor Jerry Koch. He has heard from Costco as well as Costco customers that it needs a full liquor license, he added, because regional customers are shopping at other Costco stores in the Twin Cities, for example, Maple Grove, that have a full liquor license.

Lenzmeier outlined four options the council could consider if it wanted to add to the number of liquor licenses.

–Eliminate the eight class A licenses limit and 1-mile radius.

–Create a class C full off-sale license for a grocery and liquor operator in a regional shopping district.

–Modify the class B license by removing the 2-mile radius and eliminate the only beer and wine restriction.

–Expand off-sale liquor licenses citywide on a per capita formula.

But current class A off-sale liquor license holders who spoke wanted to keep the status quo, fearing any expansion of the number of licenses and the advent of liquor in grocery stores could result in them going out of business.

A lot of stores are struggling now because of liquors stores in cities across the border from Coon Rapids, and if more are allowed in Coon Rapids, it will lose existing business, said one.

“There is not the customer base to support another grocery store in Coon Rapids,” he said.

Jerry Teeson, a partner in Star Liquor, wanted to keep the status quo, telling the council that if Costco was to receive a full liquor license, his business would be hurt badly.

“The Riverdale area is well-served now,” he said.

According to Jeff Wise, a former Ramsey City Council member and the owner of Wiser Choice on Coon Rapids Boulevard, Ramsey at one time had seven off-sale liquor license holders and now there are three.

The current Coon Rapids ordinance was a big attraction for him when he moved his business from Ramsey to Coon Rapids, Wise said.

But a representative from Costco asked the council to evaluate the options, including changing the class B provision to full liquor rather than the existing beer-and-wine only restriction because the Coon Rapids store is at a disadvantage competing with other Costco outlets in the Twin Cities.

“Customers go to Maple Grove rather than us because it has a full liquor license,” he said.

And a representative from DDR, the Beachwood, Ohio, company that owns and operates Riverdale Village Shopping Center, told the council that the current ordinance presents a challenge to attract new tenants to the center, for example, to the space now occupied by Sears, which is closing.

“People are looking for an all-encompassing shopping experience,” he said.

Council Member Brad Johnson was reluctant to change the ordinance.

“I don’t think we need additional licenses,” he said. “I see no need.”

While Council Member Wade Demmer said it was important to protect existing businesses in Coon Rapids, the council had to balance that with making decisions on what’s best for the city as a whole and he would consider minor changes.

“This is not an open and shut case,” he said.

In the case of Costco, Koch did not think it would be “Armageddon” for neighborhood liquor stores if it got a full liquor license, he said.

“I don’t like leaking revenue to another community,” Koch said.

Council Member Jennifer Geisler leaned more to a free market and was open to more licenses while trying to protect current stores, she said.

“It’s a fine line,” Geisler said. “We have to look at how we can benefit the entire city.”

According to Council Member Steve Wells, he had no interest in unlimited off-sale liquor licenses in the city.

“We have no control on what happens in neighboring cities,” Wells said.

Council Member Brad Greskowiak believed the city had “pretty good reasons” for putting the current regulations in place and it would be “problematic” to open it up to new licenses in the community, he said.

When he was going door-to-door in Ward 1 during last year’s election campaign, expanding the number of off-sale liquor licenses was not brought up by anyone he spoke with, Greskowiak said.

There is no consensus among council members on the next step, Koch said.