WDAY: The News Leader

Published August 06, 2013, 11:04 AM

Fargo passes first reading of ordinance loosening liquor law

FARGO – City commissioners are opening the door to competition between liquor stores within the city.

By: Wendy Reuer, Forum News Service, INFORUM, Forum News Service

FARGO – City commissioners are opening the door to competition between liquor stores within the city.

The commission approved changes on Monday to an ordinance that outlines what the City Commission must consider when it grants or denies a liquor license, changes that could allow Cash Wise to open a new off-sale liquor shop in south Fargo, not far from another locally owned liquor store.

The changes mean the commission no longer has to consider the economic impact of a new liquor store on existing shops when it grants a liquor license.

Commissioners will also be the final authority in determining if a new shop meets a 100-foot restriction between liquor stores and a grocery store, gas station or drug store if the liquor license owner also owns those types of shops, as is the case with Cash Wise.

The commission asked staff to examine the old ordinance after it denied Cash Wise owners Coborn’s Inc. a liquor license transfer in May.

Cash Wise Liquor wants to move from its current location at 4101 13th Ave. S. to an empty lot west of the existing Cash Wise Grocery store at 1401 33rd St. S.

The move would have put the new shop about 800 feet from the south Fargo off-sale store, The Spirit Shop.

The Spirit Shop protested the transfer, citing a possible loss of 50 percent of customers and an impact on public safety.

Jade Rosenfeldt, a Fargo attorney representing The Spirit Shop, said Monday that leaving the 100-foot requirement up to the commission’s discretion is too ambiguous. She said as new commission members are elected, they could change how the restriction is applied.

Commissioner Melissa Sobolik asked if the 100-foot restriction could be removed completely.

City Attorney Erik Johnson said that it could, but state law still requires a wall separating liquor stores from other businesses and the liquor store must have its own cash register.

Havery Nicholson, owner of The Spirit Shop, said he thinks the commission should consider the economic impacts of a new liquor store on a case-by-case basis. Nicholson said he could understand allowing new shops in developing areas, but the market is established in his neighborhood.

“We have a closed little market that is our market,” Nicholson said. “We’ve earned that market over a lot of years.”

Mayor Dennis Walaker – who voted to approve the Cash Wise move in May – said on Monday that healthy competition should be encouraged.

Walaker said the city hopes to one day lure a Trader Joe’s to town, but the popular grocery store known for its specialty items including liquors would likely not open shop under imposing liquor restrictions.

“We’ve tried to come up with some sort of solution. Is it all right for all people? Probably not, but we try to be fair to everybody and that is what the process is,” Walaker said.

A representative for Coborn’s spoke briefly at Monday’s meeting, saying the company supported the ordinance changes.

The commission unanimously approved the first reading of the ordinance. There will be a second reading at the city’s next regular meeting on Aug. 19.