St. Louis Park is poised to put a temporary ban on new liquor stores in the city.
At a City Council work session Monday night, a majority of the seven-member council expressed support for a moratorium on new off-sale liquor licenses. The council directed city staff to prepare a proposal for consideration at its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 20.
The move came after a lively discussion in which some council members expressed concern about the prospect of big-box booze retailers moving in, while other members said they prefer to let the market decide whether the city has enough liquor stores.
The trigger was a liquor license for the SuperTarget on Hwy. 7 near Knollwood Mall. In November, the council approved the license for what will be only the second liquor store in Minnesota for the giant retailer, which operates more than 1,300 liquor stores nationwide. SuperTarget’s first such store is in Otsego.
After that license was granted, Council Member Gregg Lindberg asked the city staff to report on the liquor situation in the city. The report found that St. Louis Park has more liquor stores per person than all but two of 24 metro suburban cities.
St. Louis Park has one liquor store for each 2,800 residents, while neighboring Edina — with nearly the same population, but with only city-run liquor stores — has one liquor store for each 15,800 residents. The number of liquor stores in St. Louis Park has more than doubled since 2000, from seven to 16.
“I am ready to put a moratorium on them,” said Council Member Anne Mavity. “We are saturated.” Council Member Jake Spano expressed a desire to help locally owned retailers and prevent the arrival of large, national liquor retailers like Total Wine, which recently opened a store in Bloomington after a long legal fight.
“I don’t want to prevent the next [Four] Firkins from coming to St. Louis Park, or the next Steel Toe,” Spano said, citing a successful craft beer retailer and a brewpub in the city. “I want to encourage more of them. My concern is the ginormous, big-box retailers.”
Others spoke strongly against any limits.
“If there are too many liquor stores, the market will take care of it,” said Mayor Jeff Jacobs, calling himself “the last free-market Democrat.” Council Member Tim Brausen agreed, noting that city police say there have been no law-enforcement issues stemming from the liquor stores.
“All we’re going to do is create some artificial scarcity,” Brausen said.
Mavity retorted that the liquor business doesn’t operate as a free market — not when other cities limit the number of stores or allow only government-owned stores.
Members discussed several possible solutions to the issue, ranging from freezing the number of licenses to limiting the square footage of new stores. The moratorium, if adopted, is intended to give them time to reach consensus.
“This is a different product than dress shops or other retail,” said Council Member Steve Hallfin. The key question is, he said, “What do we want our city to look like?”