A Blaine convenience store wants to remodel, but it cannot include a liquor store unless the Blaine City Council changes the city’s rules.
Fastrip Mart, 9850 Polk St. NE, is currently 4,755 square feet. It wants to remodel this space and add 1,725 square feet to the building. The new tenants would be a Shell gas station, a mobile phone store and a liquor store.
But Fastrip will have to wait a little longer while the council discusses its current ordinance for off-sale liquor sales.
Cities have different types of liquor licenses to define the rules. On-sale liquor licenses are for restaurants that sell alcohol for consumption on-site, while off-sale licenses are for businesses that sell liquor that will be consumed elsewhere.
There are a couple of big factors in determining the number of establishments that can receive off-sale liquor licenses in Blaine under the city’s current ordinance. Blaine allows one off-sale liquor license for every 7,000 residents. The Metropolitan Council estimated that there were 64,188 Blaine residents in 2016 so there could be nine off-sale liquor licenses issued. There’s still one license available, but that establishment must be at least 1 mile away from another license holder. Fastrip is 0.92 miles from the nearest competitor, Central Spirits.
Additionally, Fastrip’s site is zoned B-1 Neighborhood Business, which does not allow for a liquor store.
City Clerk Cathy Sorensen said none of these rules are governed by state law. Every city sets its own rules when deciding how many licenses it wants to issue.
The council has discussed this topic before, but the most significant change made was in December 2015 when it said brewery businesses with taprooms and brewpubs would be allowed in Blaine and would not count toward the off-sale license limit even though these establishments could sell growlers of beer. The council approved this as Invictus Brewing Company was starting to share plans of opening in Blaine.
Mayor Tom Ryan acknowledged that the biggest game-changers in this whole discussion would be if large stores such as Cub Foods, Target and Wal-Mart asked to for full liquor options in their Blaine stores.
Blaine has also been rumored as a potential new location for different high-end grocery stores. Economic Development Coordinator Erik Thorvig told the council in May that Hy-Vee was looking for a site in Blaine and wants a liquor store included. Hy-Vee has submitted an application to build a store on the corner of Highway 65 and 81st Avenue in Spring Lake Park.
“I don’t think it’s that complicated. We just have to make a decision,” Ryan said.
The ordinance will be discussed at the Sept. 21 workshop meeting. The council did not indicate whether it would make any changes to the ordinance, but said it made sense to discuss the current rules, the options to change and what the ramifications could be. Also, Council Members Andy Garvais and Julie Jeppson are new to the council this year so they may have different viewpoints than their predecessors.
Gus Afrooz would serve as the general contractor for the Fastrip remodel if it moves forward. His friend, Paul Masih, owns the Fastrip Mart. Afrooz was at the Sept. 7 workshop along with a project consultant, Jack Prill, to listen to the council’s conversation.
Afrooz said he left feeling a little more optimistic that Fastrip could receive an off-sale liquor license since the council was open to discussing the 1-mile distance rule.
But he has heard about Hy-Vee being interested in Blaine and hopes that if a big retailer comes in that they are treated the same as a small business owner and get no special privileges.
“We have to follow the rules. Hopefully they’ll be fair to us,” he said.