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Heidi Shaffer, Published December 16 2010

Drink specials’ impact studied

Fargo took its first steps Wednesday in the discussion over what – if anything – should be done about drink discounts that encourage overconsumption.

The Safe Communities Coalition presented information during the monthly Liquor Control Board meeting on drink-discounting research and examples of ordinances other cities have undertaken.

Police Chief Keith Ternes said the board is not looking to eliminate drink specials entirely, but potentially target those that deeply discount, or in some cases give away alcohol.

Laura Oster-Aaland, a Safe Communities member, said studies show a correlation between drink prices and intoxication rates. Research also indicates laws that limit drink discounting are linked to reductions in drunken driving and consumption rates in college students, she said.

Oster-Aaland also showed examples of existing Fargo specials, such as 50-cent drinks, heavily discounted refills and free drinks on ladies night.

Drink specials often put bar owners in a “difficult dilemma” in trying to stay competitive, Oster-Aaland said.

Jim Swanick, owner of Empire Liquors, said he isn’t sure on which side of the issue he sits.

“There’s good specials, and there’s bad specials,” he said.

Oster-Aaland showed examples of ordinances, laws and even agreements within the liquor industry that target drink discounts.

But Swanick said he isn’t sure how effective an ordinance would be.

“The savvy entrepreneur always seems to find a way around this stuff,” he said.

Ternes said, ideally the city would continue to allow the industry to regulate itself.

“At the end of the debate, that may be where we end up,” he said.

City Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who sits on the board, said he would like to see a metro-wide approach to the issue and that Tuesday’s meeting is just the beginning of the discussion.

The board’s next meeting scheduled for Jan 19.

Liquor control board

Members are City Auditor Steve Sprague, Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, Mayor Dennis Walaker, Police Chief Ternes and City Attorney Gary Stewart. Walaker was absent Wednesday because he is in Washington, D.C., for a meeting.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511