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Minnesota city liquor stores again post record sales

Booze: For small towns across Minnesota, it’s what helps keep property taxes down, and essential city services like police and fire protection running smoothly.

And many towns in the region are raising a significant chunk of revenue from sales at its city-run liquor stores.

According to a Minnesota Legislative Auditor’s report released last week, almost all municipal liquor stores in northwest Minnesota saw a profit in 2012. Only St. Hilaire and Williams reported a loss that year.

Meanwhile, Thief River Falls saw a $462,024 windfall. That was up from $387,234 in 2008.

“2012 was a really good year,” said Steve Olson, the liquor store manager there. “The city is growing, so that helps.”

Over the past five years, net profits at municipal liquor stores in Minnesota grew by 33.7 percent, according to Deputy State Auditor Greg Hierlinger’s report. The year 2012 also marked the 17th in a row of record sales at $329.6 million.  

Olson said without the Thief River Falls liquor store, there would have to be a 25 percent property tax levy increase.

“That goes to help parks and rec, and police and fire and all that type of stuff,” he said.

A similar tax hike would have to go into effect without the liquor store revenues in Warroad, said city administrator Kathy Lovelace. She said $85,000 of the store’s $158,137 profit goes to the city’s general fund.

“That’s a lot of money to us,” she said, adding that 2012 was a pretty average year for liquor sales.

“We’re very a weather-dependent community when it comes to the liquor store,” Lovelace said. “Because if the fishing’s good, winter or summer, then we have more people up here, then our sales are stronger.”

Sunday sales?

Debate over Sunday liquor sales are as dependable as death and taxes in Minnesota.

The debate in the state Legislature has already begun. Gov. Mark Dayton gave advocates of allowing liquor stores to stay open on Sundays a boost late last year when he said he would sign such a bill if the Legislature passed it.  

For Olson, changing the law would mean spreading six days worth of sales over seven days, increasing operating costs.

“I really think it would hamper us,” he said. “We’re here to control the sale of alcohol and try and generate some profits for our city.”

The Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association opposes the idea, arguing that it wouldn’t benefit city finances and has public safety implications.

Minnesota Beer Activists, a group advocating to change the law, argues that allowing a seventh day of alcohol sales may in fact increase tax revenues, and consumers should be allowed the opportunity to shop on Sundays.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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