Should the City of Northfield be selling gateway drugs to its citizens? Alcohol, yes. Tobacco, no.

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The topic of this month’s Northfield League of Women Voters 4th Monday Forum on Aug. 27 at the library: is:

“The Muni: should the city of Northfield be in the business of selling alcohol and tobacco?”

There’s no info about the forum on the League’s website but according to Kiffi Summa, “There will be no experts, no panel, just citizens discussing this issue, which seems to have strong proponents on both sides.”

I’ve long said (ad nauseum, to some) that the City should quit selling cigarettes since they’re the only legal product that, when used as directed, still kill you. That’s not true for alcohol. But after chatting about this on our radio show/podcast this week with former City Councilor Dixon Bond, I think this is NOT the time for the Council to tackling liquor store relocation issues and along with that, the larger issue of whether to have a Muni at all. It just has too many more pressing issues on its plate, with leadership issues (mayor, city administrator, police chief) on top of that.

However, getting out the tobacco retail business should be a no-brainer, 5-minute discussion/decision. The City makes less than $5,000/yr in profit from selling cigarettes. More importantly, selling tobacco makes the City look hypocritical, as it appears to be placing profits ahead of health. “We only sell cigarettes at the Muni for the convenience of the customers.” That may have been a valid reason in years past, but not any more. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes aren’t inextricably linked any more. I’d venture that the percentage of smokers among those adults visiting the library, the hospital gift shop, and city hall is pretty close to those visiting the liquor store. Why not sell tobacco at those city retail locations if convenience of the customers is a concern?

21 thoughts on “Should the City of Northfield be selling gateway drugs to its citizens? Alcohol, yes. Tobacco, no.”

  1. According to Dixon Bond in his recent LG radio thing the LS netted a 100K last year. it’s been higher and it’s been lower. Tracking real profit is difficult. There are occasional moving of moneys around… and some city expenses charged back to the Liquor Store account sometimes seem to get inflated… further reducing the profit.

    Of course the dollars realized is only part of the value of the Liquor Store to the community.

    It is a traffic builder for the DT and also a means of controlling alcohol in Northfield. A social and economic disaster could occur were the sale of liquor ever allowed in other venues such as Drug Stores, Service Station or Grocery stores. Not to worry though… I suspect we can depend on prayer keeping that beast from rearing its ugly head around these parts.

  2. I agree with you, Victor, that supporting downtown is very important. I’m just not sure a liquor store is the way to do it. (Not necessarily opposed, just not sure).
    Tracking profit shouldn’t be difficult at all. The expenses should be reported clearly and if the city needs to transfer money, it should be done as a transfer and not by inflating expenses. That simply shouldn’t be tolerated (maybe the auditor can add that to his list.)
    As for the support for downtown, it just seems to me there should be a comparison of the profits from a highway location and from downtown and the difference should be clearly stated as public support for downtown businesses and should be rated against the value of other subsidy options. I’m not opposed to a subsidy, but it shouldn’t be a silent one. Perhaps it would be more cost-effective to have a liquor store on the highway that generates $200,000 a year and use the $100,000 to pay some of the debt service on a downtown arts center. Maybe a liquor store is the best draw for downtown, but it should be weighed against all the others. I would think business owners would want to know that, too.
    Finally, maybe you were just joking, but if Prohibition didn’t control alcohol, a city monopoly on selling it won’t. Byerly’s and Haskell’s and MGM and other stores in Minnetonka sell all kinds of alcohol and the city seems to have weathered the economic and social storm quite nicely. Indiana and Illinois have managed to develop relatively healthy economies with private alcohol sales. And I believe many state legislators in Minnesota are confident grocery stores here can handle the responsibility.
    It seems to me that the liquor store issue should be put on hold for a year to see whether the state finally passes the grocery store liquor sale law. If so, the best draw for downtown may be to encourage EconoFoods to stay financially healthy by adding liquor sales…and maybe a small restaurant, as Lund’s has done at some of its locations.
    This is a very interesting topic, indeed. So many wonderful options to consider.

  3. If it were up to me, I would pay the couple of hundred extra tax dollars and proclaim Rice County dry. That may be a hardship for
    some towns people, so I expect I won’t get my way. 🙁
    There are many other good ways to get taxes and not confuse people with wondering why the govt is involved in selling alcohol, cigarettes, and promoting gambling on top of it. I guess you can turn anything into a bad scene if you try hard enough, though.
    Look at rooster and dog fighting. Again, it’s people going overboard that I don’t like. Why can’t everyone be like me? Haha. Kidding. That would be boring and I don’t like that either.

    Anyway, alcohol is used for negative praying and cigarettes are used to gloss over life’s pesky little details, imho.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_alcohol

    Bright

  4. Marketing is all about how to set your product or service apart. What is going to draw people downtown, the the call to action, “Let’s go to downtown Northfield they have a new liqueur store” or “let’s go to Northfield they have a family focused fun activities” or “let’s go to Northfield they have a new _________” (fill in: statue of Jesse James, art museum, smore eating contest, etc). The liqueur store would not appeal to me and I doubt many. In addition, I cannot think of one small town that has a vibrant downtown where a liqueur store has any impact on the success.

  5. It’s mostly about traffic and numbers or visits to the downtown One builds off the other. While Norhfield has a monopoly on their package liquor sales it only seems logical that re-siting it DT is a plus for the DT – as is the library expansion or any other existing venue undergoing change and new venues that might make it into our DT and its fringe.. Hardware stores too… if we didn’t have the big box with the low low prices pulling shoppers away from the DT.

    Perhaps you’re right David about conventional marketing plans – our deal here is more like affirmative action for the DT. – If your selling garden supplies in the Arctic Circle… you may want some other support to build your business. Perhaps someone selling solar and wind powered greenhouses.

    Anne may seem to be right too when she says:

    “Byerly’s and Haskell’s and MGM and other stores in Minnetonka sell all kinds of alcohol and the city seems to have weathered the economic and social storm quite nicely. Indiana and Illinois have managed to develop relatively healthy economies with private alcohol sales.”

    But, Northfield is not a comparison to the locales she references. Although I doubt that Byerly’s can sell alcohol in their grocery store – violates the state statue on venues of package sales.

    Also, I can’t say about Indiana – but as for Illinois, you can buy package goods just about anywhere except in a church in Chicago.

    The struggle here is, 1) to get more activity to come DT… 2) to keep what we have – and 3) all the while, try to increase those numbers. Look at Harry Potter and the Taste of Northfield – not permanent venues but great effort to pump the DT!

  6. The way Byerly’s and other stores do this is that the liquor store and grocery (and restaurant) have a either a shared lobby and separate doors, or adjacent doors.
    In Indiana, wine and beer are in grocery stores and Walgreens and other drug stores just have liquor aisles that are cordoned off on Sunday. IMHO, a liquor store would be a perfect fit for EconoFoods and safer than having traffic cut back and forth across Division between a grocery and liquor store. Just an idea. I know EF isn’t selling; all the more reason to wait a year and see what pans out with state about private liquor sales.
    And I’m sure it would be great to place a lot of projects downtown, all I’m saying is that the NDDC really should evaluate which will bring the most traffic that will stay in downtown. For example, an arts center will bring social traffic that will provide spillover for lots of businesses (think Uptown). A hockey rink might bring lots of traffic, but will those people stay downtown to shop? Maybe, but that’s a lot of ground to clear without some real evaluation.
    Here’s a thought, and there are lots of other variations possible:
    Work with the building owner to relocate the busineses in the strip mall along the river to other spaces downtown and turn that into the library or library/arts center…library becomes City Hall…City Hall becomes a business incubator or early childhood center…and the Tires Plus area eventually becomes a small arts center/black box theater. Meanwhile south of downtown, the YMCA becomes part of NCRC, perhaps with an addition for a gym or tennis or hockey space, with access to schools and easy connection to downtown. It’s an easy location for after-school programs and access from rural areas.
    There’s no one major new building, just some shifting to maximize collaboration, increase use of a lot of spaces, minimize new construction, share parking, connect to trails, sidewalks and current traffic flows. Best thing is this can be done in phases, with costs spread over time.
    I’m not saying this is the best plan, just saying maybe it’s time to put all the pieces of a healthy community on the table and look for new ways to see how they fit together best.

  7. OF LIQUOR SALES… ANNE SAID in #8: The way Byerly’s and other stores do this [sell package liquor] is that the liquor store and grocery (and restaurant) have a either a shared lobby and separate doors, or adjacent doors.

    V.Summa response.
    Well technically, Byerly’s is not selling liquor. There may happen to be a private liquor store nearby – that’s all that is. And, could work here if the city abandoned its monopoly. Not a good idea… for a variety of reasons, not the least would be: How such a move would make economic sense for Northfield. And, sure… most activity will want to be around the big boxes – thus defeating the goal of having the LS build traffic DT.

    ANNE ALSO SAID: a liquor store would be a perfect fit for Econo Foods…

    I agree [in part,] for many of the same reasons, but the cost to N’fld to put a new store on the Econo site would likely be much more than some other options. Still the Econo site was the Council’s second choice – even when they knew the likely entanglements if they pursued their first choice, the Lansing Trust deal at 600 Division Street. Oh and Nash/Finch isn’t in the selling mood.

    ANNE finally gets around to agreeing with Dixon and others who see it pointless to pursue the question now because of the muddle that surrounds and clouds the entire affair. Something by the way that I asked of the Council back in February, when they first started actively to go through all the maneuvers that have ensued since March – and now have exploded into the frenzy of uncertainity as it stands today.

    I’ll also point out, Jim Pokorney, at the last Council discussion on this subject, advocated starting over at zero – wherever that is – which would in effect be much the same as postponing the issue for now… with the down side of probably spending more money to seek an answer.

    Lets see – a year’s delay from today would put us just two and a half months from an election which could change the Council by as many as 4 seats… if there’s no recalls or resigns before then!

    So, [as Anne says] all the more reason to wait a year (and I’d add: or more) to see what pans out with the state about private liquor sales.

    Well forget the state – just wait and see if we ever might have money here again and the wil to make an orderly decision.

    So then, that leaves Anne’s big plan… a discussion and selection process now with the entire world. Gather all the groups together having any interest in any of the following.

    [sic] Anne Bretts’ laundry list:

    she says… the NDDC really should evaluate which will bring the most traffic that will stay in downtown….. an arts center … A hockey rink and there are lots of other variations possible… relocate the businesses (Liquor Store) in the strip [River Park] mall….. and turn that into the library or library/arts center… library becomes City Hall…City Hall becomes a business incubator or early childhood center…and the Tires Plus area eventually becomes a small arts center/black box theater. Meanwhile south of downtown, the YMCA becomes part of NCRC, perhaps with an addition for a gym or tennis or hockey space, with access to schools and easy connection to downtown. It’s an easy location for after-school programs and access from rural areas….

    an’ the knee bone becomes the thigh bone… and the thigh bone becomes the butt bone… and here’s the word of the lord……… [emphasis added]

    It’s Chicago’s Burnum Plan for Northfield!

    Estimated cost $75,000,000 that’s why!

    vs

  8. Actually, Byerly’s does own and operate the liquor stores…the separate entrances are to comply with state law and leave themselves in position when the laws change as well. Lots of grocery stores do this, not a new concept at all.
    As for the liquor store, I was talking about Econo Foods selling liquor, not the city. The city might find selling the current liquor store and opening up competition would create two competitive and successful stores instead of one limited one.
    We do have the same goal of beefing up downtown without killing the charm. It’s worth looking at all the ways to do that.
    As for the “big plan,” it’s really not so big at all. Superior Wisconsin, did a wonderful library in an old grocery store (which is engineered for a heavy weight load) for far less than building new. Skylights and a majestic window feature make it look quite nice. People there love it and it’s a real anchor for downtown. The mall here was a grocery store, right? And it would anchor that south end of downtown, serve the senior condos, create more public access along the river and safe biking, etc.,
    The other changes are quite possible and these kinds of things have been done in other cities quite well — and on a budget. There are vacancies downtown that might work for the businesses in the mall. Maybe not. I guess I don’t see how ridiculing new ideas helps solve problems, but here are a few more laughs: Tiny Biwabik built a municipal building with a grocery store on the first floor and City Hall above to generate lease money, keep the grocery in town and get a new public center. Crazy? Yeah, but it works. Andover has a YMCA/hockey rink and North St. Paul has a library/conference center/exercise center.
    I don’t have a stake in any plan, it just seems that the current thinking of a new giant library downtown, a YMCA downtown, an ice arena downtown, an arts center downtown and a city liquor store downtown may be a stretch in both land and money.

  9. Anne,

    You forgot both the Dog Park downtown, and the Skate Park downtown…Can we get a Ferris Wheel in Ames Park as well? 😎

    I can agree with 90% of your ideas, but I am still not sold that bringing every single concept to bear on saving downtown is the answer. I am very pro-downtown, but I am not sure that moving everything down there is the answer.

    Personally, I would like to see the Liquor store move out onto HWY 3, perhaps on Woodley and 3, or further out.

    I would then like to see the “old” liquor store site be converted into a regional visitors center / trailhead / etc for the area, where tourists could get information on the downtown, the local area, etc. It would be a place where visitors by bike could park and lock, and enjoy downtown.

    Have a good day.

  10. Thanks, John, those are interesting suggestions. I said earlier having the liquor store on Hwy 3 might make sense if the goal were to privatize or to make the most money possible for the city. I favor privatizing for a number of reasons.
    The library in the strip mall also could include a fine visitor center, with public restrooms to serve the park and bike trail and river. Or the lower level of the fire station, if the police station is moved out.
    I’d just like to see the liquor store become tax-generating, if possible. Or maybe it could be an arts center/gallery. It just seems like a gigantic space for passing out brochures. Maybe if there were a conference room so it could be a business center…See, there are so many possibilities when people start thinking.
    Hope the drive north goes well and that you get some rest in the vanpool. Talk about great ideas.

  11. Anne wrote:
    “Actually, Byerly’s does own and operate the liquor stores…the separate entrances are to comply with state law and leave themselves in position when the laws change as well. Lots of grocery stores do this, not a new concept at all.”

    VS: Technically Byerly’s Grocery does not sell liquor – they may in fact operate in neighboring sites to the grocery store – but selling liquor in that location, I would say is a taking advantage of a loop hole, that will not be available in Northfield

    Anne goes on:
    “As for the liquor store, I was talking about Econo Foods selling liquor, not the city. The city might find selling the current liquor store and opening up competition would create two competitive and successful stores instead of one limited one.”

    VS: Why pray tell would Northfield want to encourage competition in Liquor sales when they have the monopoly… and al the advantages it provides?

    Then there’s Anne’s response to the Big Plan:
    “As for the “big plan,” it’s really not so big at all. Superior Wisconsin, did a wonderful library in an old grocery store (which is engineered for a heavy weight load) for far less than building new. Skylights and a majestic window feature make it look quite nice. People there love it and it’s a real anchor for downtown. ”

    VS: Northfield has no redevelopment site of the kind you cite from Superior WI. Look around – there’s nothing historical that’s available and could sustain such an investment. Additionally, Superior WI is the largest city in its county – and is in effect a suburb of Duluth – making those two cities and others in the region the heart of a population base of a quarter of a million people.

    Anne again:
    “I guess I don’t see how ridiculing new ideas helps solve problems, but here are a few more laughs:

    Tiny Biwabik built a municipal building with a grocery store on the first floor and City Hall above to generate lease money, keep the grocery in town and get a new public center. ”

    VS: I’m sorry Anne but Biwabik? – population 895? – This is little more than a red herring – a mere distraction. Certainly not a comp!

    What of ANNE’s misleading conclusion re: the Andover Y and related facilities.

    ANNE: “Crazy? Yeah, but it works. Andover has a YMCA/hockey rink…..

    Andover, smack dab in the middle of the Twin Cities northern fringe suburbs… with a population of 30,000 and surrounded by growth

    Then Anne circles to this conclusion:
    “it just seems that the current thinking of a new giant library downtown, a YMCA downtown, an ice arena downtown, an arts center downtown and a city liquor store downtown may be a stretch in both land and money.”

    VS: You’re right – we agree (is that three times now? A hat trick? Did prayer bring us together?)

    You said “a stretch in both land and money.”

    That’s why I criticized the “laundry list” of development, citing a 75 million dollar price tag. I thought you were serious. Good laugh! But, the reason that list is misleading is it’s totally out of scale for this community. If – – – IF we can muster the money to re-do the library (some seem to think that’s 9 million) we’re going to be lucky. (and in debt!)

    As to the Liquor Store expansion, I’m not necessarily in favor of it at this time – but if done, it needs to be done right. That’s with taste and vision and… to benefit the heart of the community.

    In response to John Thomas’ remark about dog parks, skate board parks and Ferris wheels… I’m not sure what in there is cynicism or what might be sincere, but my view……

    A skateboard park as envisioned by the kids cost wise is a fraction of any of the other park-and rec-like amenities, or anything in Anne’s list. It is sorely needed by a growing segment of our youth… and probably one of the most worthwhile developments we could consider… and affordable. furthermore, if built, like the hockey rink will likely become another destination for out of town visits, spurring the economy.

    I’d put the Ice Rink right up there too, in theory – when providing for our youth… except it’s millions more.

    I guess the dog park is a success – don’t have a pup so don’t go there – Frankly, I’d look for a few thousand dollars to spruce it up. Give it some class… and I guess we need an ordinance requiring poop retrieval

    Ferris wheel? Surely you jest.

    John also says: I can agree with 90% of your [Anne’s] ideas, but I am still not sold that bringing every single concept to bear on saving downtown is the answer… etc.

    And I agree. My point in constantly railing on about DT development is there is so little [development] compared to the highway 3 south sprawl. So, when there are possibilities of city money being spent (Liquor Store – SkateBoard park, library expansion etc… ) and these are all traffic builders, I believe it is imperative to look to develop them in the DT first.

    And there’s spin off benefits. Private development in more good retail – more good restaurants – entertainment venues e.g. theaters, cabarets etc… will occur when there’s the safety net of synergy in numbers and municipal activities that make the entire DT a more viable space.

    Well. For now – at least on this thread, I hope we can get back to its point – Next Monday night’s LWV Fourth Monday discussion on Should Northfield be selling gateway drugs to its citizens? Alcohol, yes. Tobacco, no.

  12. Someone brought up the point that it would be more convenient for
    smokers if they could buy their tobacco at the liquor store.
    With both grocery stores and gas stations, mail order, and
    refrigerators providing smoker convenience, why oh why is this
    even an issue? We have all been inconvenienced by smokers…
    ie, I am having to wait til after Oct 1 to go to Applebee’s again,
    either that or wash my long hair and winter coat when applicable
    rather than smell like tobacco…and this is only one minor inconvenience for me.

    Also, I can foresee the day when sellers of tobacco may be sued for doing so…just trying to get a fire going here.

    Bright

  13. Victor, I guess I should be flattered that a man hangs on my every word the way you do, but I have no interest in a personal debate, so I’m not going to add more details for you to pick apart. I think the readers are smart enough to figure things out for themselves.
    BTW, only a library? I can’t believe I have more faith in Northfield’s potential than you have. There is so much that can be done…(The old grocery in Superior was just a boring big box. The town had only 20,000 or so people when it was done and was economically depressed with a gutted downtown. The grocery was quite a jumpstart to more redevelopment.)
    And as to the original question.
    Tobacco, no. Alcohol, no.

  14. Refering back to Griff’s frist question, should the city be selling “gateway drugs” in the firsy place, this would seem to pose both moral and economic questions. Morally, are the wares getting into the hands of under age drinkers and smokers? Economically, why would the government provide educational programs to help teens make wise choices on one end of society, then provide the poisons that cost so much to deal with on the other end of usage? It reminds me of a definition of the American economy I heard Paul Harvy give about 25 years ago. He said, “The American economy is like 12 guys standing in a circle. Each one has his hands in his neighbor’s pocket, and they all think they are getting rich.”
    I think Bright has a good point, in leu of the court judgement against tobacco companies. Just because the municipality is a government organization, does this alone exempt it from complicity in the damage done to people’s lives? As far as use of these products, there is still a personal responsibility each of us has regarding our use/abuse of these things. The problem with this concept is that, according to the recent slant in our litigious society, we seem to be exempted from responsibility if the supplier is aware of the consequences any particular use/absuse might have.

  15. Victor-
    Not all is what it seems when one looks closely. I know you keep your nose to the ground in Northfield but the equation that booze = traffic for DT is likely misguided. Booze trips may in fact represent traffic but not such that it will create any vibrancy for other DT businesses.
    What small cities do you think have vibrant downtowns, Stillwater or Wayzata? Why do people think they are vibrant? My guess is most will answer in some way that represents creative energy and when pushed hard for specifics I would bet nary a one will mention retail booze availability.
    I would suggest Northfield hire a consultant that has had success building a high traffic destination business in an older downtown area and then defer to their expertise on decisions.

  16. For anyone who is interested in this question, just a REMINDER:

    League of Women Voters discussion tonight, 7 PM at the public library, subject : “The Muni; Should the City Be in the Business of Selling Alcohol and Tobacco?”

    All you interested parties: Be There or be Square!

  17. Report:
    Actually the meeting was very under-attended; only 6 in all. I had picked the subject (The Muni:Should the City be in the Business of Selling Alcohol and Tobacco?”) because in other discussions, of other subjects, this one kept coming up. I can think of at least 6-8 people who raised the issue more than once. But for whatever reason those people didn’t show up………Beastly weather, whatever!

    So although 6 is not a very meaningful # of comments, here’s how it shook out:
    !. general on having a MUNICIPAL liquor store:
    2 – positive
    2 – qualified, i.e. more positive if excess profit used for a good cause, youth benefits, etc.
    1 – definite negative
    1 – don’t care

    2. on tobacco sales: You would really have changed this vote, griff!
    1 – yes
    1 – no
    2 – lean toward no
    1 – doesn’t care

    3. on question of new store, its necessity, and site:
    * most said why? state auditor’s report shows NF Muni does very well for its size, site, etc
    * site specific – Put it off for now, best site is probably in 600 block of Division to anchor new
    development there, so put it off ’til Lansing no longer Mayor, to resolve conflict.
    * I person very concerned about financing impact, bonding for development costs,;how long to
    pay back ’til Muni makes money again..

    Whether there are 6 or 60 people in attendance at the 4th Monday meeting, I am always so proud of NF for the committment of many of its citizens to the issues of their community.

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