National retailer Total Wine will gain its second Minnesota foothold with a store in Burnsville set to open later this year, but as with its other stores in the state, it's plans were greeted with opposition from other merchants.
Owners of nearby stores cried foul about the warehouse-style chain's plans for a store near Burnsville Center, and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association trade group made its case against a license with "reams of printed material" — a four-inch stack, said City Council members — detailing objections that including a record of enforcement actions against Total Wine in other states. Total Wine claims to have had a total of 29 violations (17 for underage sales) ever at its more than 100 stores.
Even as the city approved a liquor license, the mayor said the City Council should revisit Burnsville's ordinance to close the 2009 "loophole" that has allowed liquor stores to locate near each other near the mall without a cap on the number of stores there.
Opponents said that they embraced competition from the discount chain, but that the location at 820 W. County Road 42 would mean an over-concentration, with five liquor stores within a half-mile. Other nearby stores include MGM Wine & Spirits, Costco, Cub Foods and Haskell's.
"My argument is not really about competition," MGM president Terry Maglich told the City Council at a crowded public hearing last month. "To me the big issue is, the concentration doesn't seem to be practical. … [The city is] licensing an overly competitive environment. … [It's] too densely populated where our current store is."
Maglich predicted that MGM "will probably be severely hurt," and it won't be the only one. "There's going to be a lot of little stores that will be severely damaged by this over-concentration of off-sale liquor stores in Burnsville," he said.
Beverage Association Executive Director Frank Ball warned the council of a dire impact for small stores: "Four of them will be smashed out of business by this time next year."
But Jim Sebring, manager at Blue Max Liquors, said he has hopes that "this new place doesn't affect [revenues] by more than 10 percent." With Costco's arrival, he said, "we got clipped by 5 to 7 percent" at first, but over time "we gained it back, and then some."
Burnsville's liquor-sales ordinance originally required free-standing buildings located away from residences, churches and schools and spaced a mile or more apart.
That changed in 2009 with a revision to make way for a Costco store near Burnsville Center allowing multiple off-sale liquor stores to locate closer than a mile apart.
Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, who cast the lone "no" in the 4-1 council vote to grant Total Wine a license, said the city's Economic Development Commission at the time recommended a cap on the number of liquor stores in the area.
"They were right," she said, adding that council members then did not foresee movement in the city's off-sale liquor landscape, which had remained relatively unchanged.
Burnsville, with a population of about 50,000, has one liquor license for every 5,000 residents, Kautz said. Total Wine acquired its license after Red Hawk Liquor & Wine, in the city's northeast corner, went out of business.
Kautz characterized her vote as being "for the good of Burnsville" and its goal of a "diversified commercial balance [and] not having a cluster of controlled substance retail use."
Council Member Dan Kealy said reverting to the old ordinance language would be a mistake. He said that he favors free-market competition and that clusters of similar stores often grow the customer base at regional shopping centers.
The Total Wine location in Roseville provides a peek at what consumers in Burnsville can expect to find.
On a recent afternoon, a couple dozen shoppers, in groups that ranged from older couples to parents toting young children, pushed carts through retail canyons at the company's new store at a strip mall near Rosedale mall.
Total Wine president David Trone's claim that Total Wine will carry 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers doesn't sit right with Sebring of Blue Max Liquors. He said Blue Max carries 1,500 beers, which he figures is within 100 or 200 of every beer available in Minnesota. When Total Wine opens in Burnsville, Sebring said, he plans to go over and count.
Chris Steller is a Twin Cities freelance writer.