HUDSON, WIS. – The Christmas tree and holiday lights near the Lakefront Park band shell here are dazzling. It's just too bad, one council member said, that some city residents are increasingly afraid to go downtown after dark to see them.
"People won't go look," Common Council Member Joyce Hall said Tuesday. "A person told me he saw someone throwing up in a park waste bin during the day. Another took his son downtown, only to see them cleaning up blood from a sidewalk. This isn't the image we want for the city of Hudson."
Minnesotans, seeking bars and restaurants where they can eat and drink without the statewide COVID-19 restrictions that have shut down establishments at home, have been flocking across the St. Croix River to Hudson over the past few weeks, police and city officials said — and they're seeing a rowdier crowd seeking to make trouble after dark.
Outside a Hudson bar early Sunday, a 26-year-old New Brighton man was stabbed to death and two others were injured. Two suspects from the Twin Cities were arrested Monday in Anoka County and are awaiting charges.
In response, Common Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to place a limited 10 p.m. curfew on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants throughout the city. Closing time will be moved up by four hours for establishments with on-premise liquor licenses Thursday, Friday and Saturday, starting this week and continuing until Jan. 2.
"The past three weekends have been busier and busier since the Minnesota lockdown went on," Police Chief Geoff Willems told the council and Mayor Rich O'Connor, who initially proposed the curfew every night. The chief said his officers are overwhelmed by increases in reported robberies, assaults and EMS responses to "unconscious people lying in the street."
O'Connor said "the people in this town … fear for their safety when they contemplate to go out to the downtown area."
Council Member Jim Webber said employees of the town's dining and drinking establishments said that "after 10 o'clock rolls over, you get a different crowd and a total shift in behavior."
Sarah Atkins Hoggatt agreed with her colleague, saying, "We've got to get this late-night violence out of our city."
After concerns arose about events booked months in advance, the council worked up an amendment allowing for invitation-only special events to be granted a city-approved exception on a case-by-case basis.
Council members and the mayor said they're aware that folks hustled out the door at 10 p.m. might drive to a neighboring town and keep drinking there.
"Our surrounding communities are going to be impacted by what we do," said Hoggatt.
At Hop & Barrel Brewing Co. on downtown's edge, a half-dozen people sat at tables sipping beer. Probably 90% of the people who came in Tuesday were from Minnesota, said beer tender Alyssa Kelly.
During the daytime hours, the crowd is quieter with families and a few couples on double dates.
"At night, it's a different crowd," she said. "There's some who come to party and some who cause a little more of a ruckus," she said.
Along the St. Croix River, people strolled through Lakefront Park, taking advantage of a mild December day. Up the street, a lunch crowd bustled through the restaurants and bars lining downtown's main drag decked out with evergreen planters and holiday decorations.
Carol Trainor, who owns Urban Olive & Vine with her husband, Chad, said the additional visitors can make the town as busy as it is on the Fourth of July.
Chad Trainor said he and other business owners are happy to handle more business, but the sudden spike was a bit overwhelming. It's a repeat of what happened at the start of summer when Wisconsin reopened its bars and restaurants before Minnesota did.
"It was nuts," Chad Trainor said. "And then Minnesota reopened and it all evened out. That's just life in a border town."
After decades of burnishing the city's image to something more family friendly, Webber said, business owners are happy with the boost in business. But they're recoiling at the trouble that's accompanied it.
Minnesota's COVID shutdown has created a situation similar to what happened 40 years ago, when Wisconsin's lower drinking age drew Minnesota teenagers looking for places to legally chug beer, he said.
"Eighty percent of the traffic is from Minnesota. And, at 10 p.m., the crowd changes," Webber said. "It's like the Wild West."