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St. Paul gone wild: city looks to extend weekday liquor store hours

The city is proposing to let liquor stores stay open until 10 p.m. during the week, the same as almost every surrounding community.

“Extending the hours only increases the costs for small business without adding any additional sales (or tax revenue),” said Mike Radenbaugh who co-owns Park Liquor.
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

They don’t roll up the sidewalks at 8 p.m. in St. Paul anymore.

They do, however, close the liquor stores.

While most of the cities and towns surrounding the capital city have gradually taken advantage of a change in state law allowing liquor stores to remain open until 10 p.m. during the week, St. Paul never got around to it.

Now, however, there is momentum behind permitting the city’s 50 off-sale liquor stores to join its neighbors in staying open later (the city already allows the stores to stay open until 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). The same change would also allow the city’s craft breweries with taprooms to sell growlers after 8 p.m.

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The proposed ordinance change, sponsored by Council Member Chris Tolbert, will have a public hearing on Oct. 5. But comments solicited by Tolbert have been mostly supportive. Of the 51 comments received by his office so far, 43 are in favor, including four from community councils.

“This change is the first good thing I’ve heard coming out of the city for a long time,” said one Mac-Groveland resident.

“While I don’t drink alcohol, it is my belief that no major consequences would result from this change in the ordinance,” wrote Myra Montgomery.

And after listing reasons to support the change, Brandon Jutz added: “Now, when can we talk about Sunday hours.”

The reference to Sunday sales is apt, since some of the same arguments used against later weekday hours in St. Paul have been used at the Legislature against Sunday sales. That is, the change would mean more work for liquor store owners without commensurate increases in sales. While experience in other states suggests that might not be true, the argument is often evoked by those who oppose changing the state’s liquor rules. 

“Extending the hours only increases the costs for small business without adding any additional sales (or tax revenue),” said Mike Radenbaugh who co-owns Park Liquor.

“If the general public can’t figure out that they ‘need’ alcohol in the time frame that stores are open, then maybe they aren’t responsible enough to drink in the first place,” said Chad Radenbaugh, also a co-owner of Park Liquor.

Jim Thomas, of Thomas Liquors and Fine Wines, said he gets a different clientele during later hours on Fridays and Saturdays. “We have learned from experience that being open on Friday and Saturday night ’til 10 only seems to attract the younger crowd,” Thomas said. “The students in particular, and many others who would be better off without a purchase.”

Michael McCafferty, who owns a liquor store bearing his surname on Randolph Avenue, said the recent changes to liquor laws in the state and locally were to the advantage of larger chain stores like Target, Trader Joe’s and Kowalski’s. “They are already open and fully staffed until after 10 p.m.,” McCafferty said. “Independent liquor stores are already taking a hit from these corporate owned stores.”

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Some of the impetus for a 10 p.m. weekday closing time is coming from the city’s craft breweries. Unlike liquor stores, taprooms in St. Paul often stay open after the end of off-sale hours, which means customers who want to purchase a growler on a Tuesday at, say, 8:15 p.m., are told to come back the next day — or head to any other city in the region.

A petition at Wabasha Brewery — which collected 219 signatures, many listing St. Paul residences — cited lost revenue for breweries and “frustration and confusion for customers.” While McCafferty wasn’t especially sympathetic to taproom operators — “they knew the hours of sales when they signed up,” he said — he suggested changing the hours for growler sales only.

Deb Loch, co-owner of Urban Growler Brewing Co., said a city staffer was in the taproom when a customer reacted with some unhappiness when they couldn’t buy a growler after 8. That helped start the conversation at city hall, and the city’s brewers have been active in promoting the change. “We have to do last call for growlers at 8,” Loch said, even though the taproom stays open later than that during the week.

Some customers go elsewhere, a particular problem for Urban Growler, which is six blocks from Minneapolis. “I’d rather keep that business in St. Paul,” she said.

Council Member Chris Tolbert
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley
Council Member Chris Tolbert

Not all liquor store owners oppose the change. And while Kowalski’s and Cub Foods officials have both endorsed the ordinance, some independent store owners have as well. “I am in favor of the 10 p.m. closing time in an effort to align with all neighboring communities,” said Michael Vanderheyden, who owns Christine Liquors.

Tolbert thinks the change is reasonable and is simply another attempt to modernize city alcohol regulations. He was behind a city charter change last year to make it easier for restaurants to serve hard liquor as well as beer and wine. “I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh, Tolbert just can’t get to the liquor store on time.’ But the irony is, I don’t drink. So it’s worthless for me. [Super America] is always open so I can get a Diet Pepsi.”

But Tolbert said he regularly hears complaints from residents about the 8 p.m. weekday closing time. “They’ll call and say, ‘The liquor store isn’t open so I’m driving over to Lilydale,’” Tolbert said. “And we’ve also heard from the breweries.”

His council staff sought public comment to see if there was major opposition. Those not in favor tended to be smaller liquor stores where the owner also provides most of the staffing. “It’s adding eight hours to their work week,” Tolbert said. And while he said he is sympathetic, the change in hours “just seemed to make sense.”

Ashley Aram, a spokesperson for St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, said he also supports the change in midweek liquor store hours.

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At the current pace of the St. Paul council process, the change could take effect by mid-November.