Committee eyes more liquor store licenses

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The city should have more licenses for retail liquor sales available.

That was the general consensus the Ad Hoc Liquor License Ordinance Committee came to Thursday.

“We don’t have any licenses available and I’m wondering why we don’t have any available,” Alderman Jim Faller, a member of the committee, observed.

Unlike class B retail liquor licenses for taverns and the like - where the number of which a municipality can issue is limited by state law - it is up to a municipality to decide how many class A beer and liquor retail licenses it will issue.

The current city ordinance has a limit of four for the licenses to sell bottled liquor. Those licenses are held by Cut-Rate Liquors, Pick ‘n Save, Piggly Wiggly and the Plymouth Wine and Cheese store.

“We have retailers who want to sell liquor but can’t,” Faller continued. “We can’t say open it up to anybody but I think the number (four) is too restrictive.”

Mayor Donald Pohlman and City Clerk/Treasurer Patty Huberty both explained that four was the number selected by the City Council a number of years ago.

Huberty noted that many communities set the number of licenses based on population, similar to the state rule that limits class B tavern licenses to one per every 500 population in cities, including Plymouth.

Huberty presented figures showing that the formula for retail liquor licenses range from one per 500 population up to one per 4,000.

She also noted that a number of communities specifically prohibit liquor sales at gas stations and convenience stores.

Plymouth’s council rebuffed a request for a retail liquor license from one local gas station/convenience store several years ago, she added.

“If you open it up to one gas station you almost have to open it up to all of them and the council didn’t want that,” according to Huberty.

“I’m not looking at opening it up to gas stations that have limited security,” Faller responded. “But we’re looking at bigger stores, like Walmart or Walgreen’s, that have better security.”

“I don’t see any downside to increasing the number,” commented committee member Carole O’Malley. “To me, it keeps you on your toes. You’re a better business when you have more competition.”

Several on the committee noted that the city’s current requirements for a retail liquor license help to limit their availability.

The current ordinance requires class B license holders to sell liquor from “a room separate from the general retail facility.” The room must have a separate cash register and a dedicated cashier who is over the age of 21.

That required a considerable investment and/or remodeling by several of the current license holders, Alderman and committee member Greg Hildebrand commented.

“I’m not against opening up (the number of licenses), but they would have to come up with a plan for an extra room and how many are going to spend money to do that?” Hildebrand asked.

“The council has struggled with how to handle this situation,” Huberty related. “The things that are here are set up to control alcohol so it’s not just on the shelf where somebody can grab it and run. As a community, we don’t want it to be an enticement for people who shouldn’t have it. It should be controlled and if these rules are followed, you can control the sale of alcohol.”

Council President Charles Hansen was alone among committee members in favoring retaining the current limit of four retail liquor licenses. Increasing the number, he said, “would impact those businesses that have already put an investment in.”

The committee agreed to come back to the issue and make a decision on a final recommendation at their next meeting Thursday, March 12 at 1 p.m.

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