Grand Forks officials might make permanent a policy change they put in place to help bars and restaurants stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Council members on Monday weighed the pros and cons of editing city code to allow certain kinds of bars and restaurants to sell alcohol alongside patrons’ delivery and to-go food orders. City Attorney Dan Gaustad is set to draft an ordinance that would do that, and council members are set to give it a formal first look on Monday, June 7.
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“Back before the pandemic, if I had a dollar for every business guy that wanted to order delivery to the hotel, and if he could get a six pack with his burger, I could probably retire,” Matt Walkowiak, who owns and runs the Ground Round Grill & Bar on 32nd Avenue South, joked to Council members. “No, I couldn’t, but it would be a nice add-on. It’s not going to make or break us, but I think it doesn’t hurt, either.”
Currently, city code prohibits alcohol delivery, but in March 2020, then-Mayor Mike Brown flexed his emergency powers and temporarily allowed Grand Forks bars, restaurants and breweries to offer booze alongside carryout and delivery orders. The move was designed to help those businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.
The exception will expire whenever the city’s state of emergency does, which, if city leaders don’t extend it, would happen at the end of June.
The mayoral order isn’t carte blanche, however. It limits the amount of alcohol that patrons can take away or have delivered, requires delivery drivers to be certified servers and work for the bar or restaurant itself, and restricts hours to between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Council members considered the merits of those restrictions, as well as others in place in Minot, N.D., where alcohol delivery is legal and does not need to be part of a meal, but where taxis and car services such as Uber are barred from making those deliveries. Grand Forks could follow suit or take any number of further steps, such as requiring that businesses offering carryout or delivery booze have a certain amount of on-premises space to keep delivery-only pop-ups from taking root.
Council President Dana Sande said he’d promised some “Class 2” license holders -- liquor stores, essentially -- that he would vote against keeping the policy change in place after the emergency orders expire, but that he also spoke to a “prominent” Class 2 license holder who thought that most bars and restaurants wouldn’t take advantage of the proposed policy change anyway.
“You have to staff it, you have to insure it, you have to manage it, and just finding employees as it is today is hard enough,” Sande said. “I think if you’re already in the business of delivering food, it’s easier. ... I can see buying a six pack of beer with pizza, right? It’s easy.”
Sande did not immediately respond to a Herald request for comment regarding the identity of the Class 2 license holder.
The possible policy change is part of a slate of proposed amendments to the “alcoholic beverage control” section of Grand Forks’ city code. Others would allow people younger than 21 to work in a bar or restaurant, provided they don’t sell alcohol to customers, or be in a specially approved event -- such as a wedding reception -- where alcohol is served, or allow more establishments to have a designated area for charitable gaming.
Dashboard, vaccine plan changes
In related news, council members were briefed on changes to the Grand Forks Health Officer’s Dashboard, as well as changes to Grand Forks Public Health’s vaccine distribution plan. The dashboard is set to take the countywide vaccination rate into account when it assesses the risk the COVID-19 virus poses to residents here, and the new distribution plan aims to have temporary vaccine clinics pop up within a half-mile of at least 95% of city residents.
“We wanted to put sites where people would essentially almost trip over them,” Haley Bruhn, who’s heading the health department’s immunization program, told council members.
Proposed sites include the Home of Economy store, where the health department held a “soft” opening of its mobile vaccine trailer, as well as the High Performance Center at UND, Grand Forks’ public library, the Alerus Center parking lot, and an assortment of public schools and parks.