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Erik Burgess, Published May 13 2013

City denies Cash Wise Liquor move, wants to review ‘ambiguous’ liquor laws

FARGO – City commissioners here are not ready to allow Cash Wise Liquor to open up a new location in south Fargo.

But they do appear primed to change what Mayor Dennis Walaker called some “awfully ambiguous” city laws that dictate where a liquor store can be located.

The City Commission decided in a 3-2 split vote Monday night to deny a liquor license transfer that would’ve allowed Cash Wise Liquor to move from 4101 13th Ave. S. to an empty lot west of the Cash Wise grocery store at 1401 33rd St. S.

The proposed move has been protested by The Spirit Shop, a south Fargo off-sale, because it would put the new Cash Wise Liquor just 800 feet from The Spirit Shop.

Commissioners Tim Mahoney, Mike Williams and Melissa Sobolik voted against the transfer. Walaker and Commissioner Brad Wimmer voted for it.

The hourlong debate had commissioners questioning decades-old city laws that require that they consider a slew of not so easily defined factors when issuing or transferring a liquor license, such as the “proximity” of other businesses licensed to sell alcohol and the “economic impact” upon other such licensed premises.

A new liquor store also cannot be within 100 feet of a grocery store, gas station or drug store.

“I think this whole ordinance needs to be revisited,” Walaker said. “Anybody can pick this apart and find out reasons why we should not grant this license.”

Mike Nicholson, operations manager for The Spirit Shop, told the commission that if Cash Wise is allowed to move across the street, a minimum of 50 percent of his business would be lost.

Wimmer said he wasn’t totally convinced that 50 percent figure is accurate, and Walaker said this country was “formed on competition.”

Nicholson added that, from a public health perspective, two liquor stores in close proximity could be bad for the city, something he believes the current city code is meant to address.

“I can guarantee you that every intoxicated person that we turn down or Cash Wise Liquor would turn down is going to stumble through the parking lot to the other store and try to buy there, and eventually something’s going to give,” Nicholson said.

Jade Rosenfeldt , a Fargo attorney representing The Spirit Shop, said Cash Wise tried to set up a liquor store here in 1988 and 1989 and was denied by the city both times, in part, because of their proximity to other liquor stores.

In 1989, the North Dakota Supreme Court upheld the city’s decision, setting a precedent that proximity and economic impact are “very valuable considerations” when looking at liquor license requests, Rosenfeldt said.

Jim Hornecker, real estate director for Coborn’s Inc., which owns Cash Wise, told commissioners that the proposed liquor store would be well beyond 100 feet from the nearby Cash Wise Little Dukes gas station. He said he believes 13th Avenue and the nearby interstates provide enough traffic to sustain both off-sale stores.

“Obviously, there is a connection between food and alcoholic beverages, and we’re just trying to make this more available to our customers,” he said.

Williams said The Spirit Shop sufficiently argued that proximity and economic impact are legitimate issues when considering a license transfer, but the city’s liquor laws still need to be reviewed.

Nicholson said he was happy with Monday’s vote, but he believes there’s a “long battle” ahead as the city looks to review its liquor laws.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518