Liquor licenses remain tied to closed businesses

Flandreau’s off-sale liquor licenses remain assigned for the coming year to two businesses that are shuttered and a third that has limited retail hours.

City mayor Mark Bonrud recently signed renewals for licenses held by Wind Street Bar and BJ’s, both of which are closed, and for Bean and Vine, a coffee shop that is not open Wednesdays and doesn’t have regular evening hours.

Unless shoppers plan ahead, that leaves them the options of stocking up on booze when they go out of town or going thirsty. It also means lost sales tax revenue for the city if customers aren’t able to buy locally.

Bonrud said the city has talked with owner Greg Corcoran of Wind Street and he wants to keep the license, along with an on-sale license that would allow the space to be a bar. Corcoran has the business for sale and has been closed for at least two and a half years.

At one point, the city looked at whether it could condemn the property because of the building’s condition, but enough work has been done to meet requirements, Bonrud said. “A lot of that stuff was redone, and it meets all of the code.”

BJ’s, a former bar and restaurant, also is closed and for sale, including its off-sale license.

Liquor licenses are issued by the state, but first go through city approval. Based on population, Flandreau is allowed three off-sale or package liquor licenses. That differs from on-sale licenses which have requirements that include a bar being open at least 60 days in the previous two years before a license renewal, said Jason Evans, deputy director of the property and special taxes division of the Department of Revenue. Off-sale licenses have no requirements that the business must sell anything, and they are inexpensive to renew at $400 each.

But, at the local level, city leaders have a say in whether the license should be renewed, Evans said. “Every single year that local governing body … has the opportunity to determine the suitability of the applicant.”

In addition, the council could reject the license based on whether the location is suitable, Evans said. That could include whether the application is open for business, although he said his office doesn’t typically hear of many cases where licenses aren’t actively used.

Bar X Bar owner Glenda Hansen said she wants an off-sale license and customers ask to buy a bottle to go on a regular basis. She can’t sell it and doesn’t want to buy another business just to get a license. She says customers go out of town to buy their booze, either in Egan or Brookings most often.

“I don’t understand why they can hang on to them when they’re not using them,” she said of the bars that are trying to sell their buildings with the licenses. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Wind Street, for example, has its business for sale for $50,000, which includes its on-sale and off-sale licenses, said Laurie Robertson, Corcoran’s partner.

“We just haven’t been able to find a buyer for it,” she said. “We’ve talked to people, and I think they’re just afraid of the bar business. There is a lot of responsibility with the bar.”

Corcoran has had the on-sale license for 20 years and the off-sale for 18, she said. The bar was open for a month this year, she said.

It’s clear that the licenses have become more valuable than the businesses that are for sale.

“If you take the license away, there goes the business too,” said Bonrud. The city has talked to Corcoran about giving up his license. “He still wants to keep it. We were hoping that he would come down enough in price where Bar X would buy it and do with it what they want to do.”

On the on-sale side of licenses, which is not limited to just three establishments, the Royal River Family Entertainment Center did not renew its license for 2018 because it is no longer open for business and wanted to let the license lapse rather than pay the fee, said Don Whitman, city administrator.

Stacie Suedkamp, owner of Bean and Vine, said she is trying to provide the off-sale liquor Flandreau customers need. She stocks her back room like a small liquor store but doesn’t have enough employees to remain open longer hours. She will open up the store later if someone needs to make a purchase and she is available. She’s also able to special order any items carried by her distributor.

“I have met people here at 10 o’clock at night,” she said. She posts a specific number on the door for those looking for after-hours sales, 612-208-7178.

Sometimes, people don’t realize Bean and Vine even sells alcohol, she said.

Even though she is the only package sale business in Flandreau, it’s not always easy, she said. “People think the markup on liquor is crazy. It’s just not.” She makes a trip to Brookings to her distributor at least once a week and can easily spend more than $1,000. When she is asked to get something specific for a customer, there have been times when they don’t come and pick it up, leaving her with a product on the shelf that may not sell well. The shelves in the back room of her coffee shop hold thousands of dollars of merchandise, money that ties up her cash until it sells.

“My problem is I’m trying to run a coffee shop, a liquor store and a cookie business,” she said. She has considered options but says hiring help is difficult, and finding space for a separate business is nearly impossible.

“I don’t know if the town would support a liquor store,” she said.

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