Monticello council reverses course in giving OK to Sunday liquor sales

Monticello City Council members voted 3-2 Monday night to reverse a previous decision against Sunday liquor sales after a reopening discussion was added to the meeting agenda.

Councilmember Lloyd Hilgart asked that the item be added to the agenda at the start of the meeting.

After reopening discussion and listening to comments from Hilgart that focused on ancillary benefits to local businesses if Sunday sales were allowed, the council voted 3-2 in favor of allowing Sunday liquor sales at Monticello’s Hi-Way Liquors after rescinding its prior action.

Voting in favor of Sunday liquor were Mayor Brian Stumpf, Hilgart and Charlotte Gabler.

Voting against were Councilmembers Bill Fair and Jim Davidson.

Earlier this month, Monticello City Council members voted 3-2 to take a highly selective approach to Sunday liquor.

City leaders at that time approved a motion to change the Hi-Way Liquors store schedule to allow Sunday sales only on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 this year for hours allowed by a recent change in state law.

Voting for that change in liquor store hours were Davidson, Fair, and Hilgart.

Voting against the motion were Stumpf and Gabler. Recently passed legislation allows cities to permit liquor stores to open on Sunday from the hours of 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The first Sunday a store can be open is July 2.

Hi-Way Liquors is currently open all holidays except Thanksgiving and Christmas and those falling on Sunday.

Days and hours of operations are annually set by the council in December and modified by action as needed.

Prior to the law’s passage, Sunday opening was discussed by the council on Feb. 13 during an annual liquor store presentation made Liquor Store Manager Randall Johnsen.

Stumpf explained Monday night that one of the three councilmembers who prevailed in the June 12 vote (Davidson, Fair, or Hilgart) had to make a motion to revisit the discussion.

“If anybody else is able to second that motion, that would bring it back for discussion and a separate motion,” Stumpf said. City Administrator Jeff O’Neill concurred.

“That’s pretty much correct,” O’Neill said. “The motion is to ask for discussion. The first motion is just to open up and discuss, and then the second motion is actually to consider rescinding. One of the three who voted in favor of the motion last time has to come forward and make a motion to ask for discussion to be opened.”

Hilgart made the initial motion, which was seconded by Fair, and unanimously approved by the rest of the council.

That action put the Sunday liquor discussion back into play Monday night.

“Now you can go whatever direction you want to go,” O’Neill said after the vote.

Hilgart said the reason that he brought the Sunday liquor issue back is that is upon further investigation, and further discussions with citizens and businesses in town, he had second-guessed his previous decision.

“I want to layout a few of the things that I came up with for why I’m considering changing my vote,” Hilgart explained, adding originally, he was sticking with a lot of the reasons that he voted not to open Hi-Way Liquors on Sundays as far as a bottom dollars-and-cents impact was concerned.

“I truly believe that a lot of the added costs of opening on Sunday aren’t necessarily going to result in extra profit,” Hilgart said. “I do still truly believe that. The majority of the liquor stores in the state weren’t in favor of it. It was the border stores. The vote in the Minnesota Senate was 38-28, so it wasn’t unanimous. But with that being said, I started taking comments. I spoke with [Director] Marcy Anderson at the Monticello Chamber of Industry and Commerce for an hour, I talked to Perry Sloneker [general manager] at the Best Western Chelsea Inn & Suites and [Manager] Craig Macholz at Von Hanson’s as well as multiple business owners and citizens. I started thinking about why are we the No. 6 municipal liquor store for net profits in the state.”
Monticello, as a whole, pulls from surrounding communities when it comes to attracting shoppers, Hilgart said.

“I think there’s an ancillary benefit for opening on Sunday for local businesses,” he said. “We will become a border store, so to speak. I think the net effect will be close. It will come down to is there a benefit to the customer. I have a bussiness with 22 employees. You don’t want your customer to go to another location.”

Stumpf said in the beginning, his position was either all in or all out. “You don’t pick and choose Sundays, he said. “In the seven-day-a-week [towing] business that I’m in, I can’t pick my hours. Personally, I would like do Sunday liquor for six months and revisit it in January and have some numbers, then revisit it one year from now. That way, the public will know if we are losing a whole ton of money in the first six months, we can tell people what’s happening and what’s projected.”

Fair said he thought reviewing Hi-Way Liquor sales this coming January was included as part of the action taken last month by the council.

“That’s because the two Sundays we selected fall on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve,” Fair said. “Obviously, by being open on just those two days will skew our numbers a bit.”

Stumpf replied, “Everything is speculation until we try it.” Fair said the city could get hard numbers based upon the decision that was made two weeks ago.

Davidson praised Johnsen for his efforts in keeping Hi-Way Liquors profitable.

“He’s done a fantastic job in the time that he’s been here,” Davidson said. “I don’t have an exact dollar amount, but I believe he’s doubled our net revenue. We should trust these people [city staff] but the decision still comes to us. He put a reasonable discussion in front of us. We have some other points of view. It wasn’t all facts. There was a lot of emotion involved. That’s a strong weighing point for me.”

Davidson added that review of liquor store financials at six months and a year would still be critical no matter what the council decided.

“We did a bad job of doing this in three or four weeks, instead of taking more time,” Davidson said, referring to a research run-up that was conducted prior to the council’s vote. “We should have been doing this two or three months ago. [Sunday liquor sales] hasn’t been old news.”

Fair said the city needed to wait until state legislators had made a decision and completed the legislative session.

Davidson replied, “My point is we needed to take more than three weeks to have a better discussion with our community and each other. That’s what makes this so hard, to sit up here with what I feel is half of the facts and half of the possible data. The community, in certain areas, has been upset with this.”

Gabler said she had checked with neighboring cities with municipal liquor operations. “They all have the same thing we are debating,” she said. “But they made the decision to try it, and evaluate it in six months. A lot of conversation was coming back saying, ‘Let’s try it and come back in January and see if we want to keep it as a permanent thing or see if it’s just a fad.’ ”

Gabler added Monticello is a sub-regional business and shopping hub. “I hate to lose that traffic. Cub isn’t going to get to sell liquor. We are. We have to try it.”

Stumpf then asked City Clerk Jennifer Schreiber for a clarification on point related to Robert’s Rules of Order.

“Do we need a motion to rescind the previous motion before a new motion comes before us, or can we open it up after discussion for a new motion,” Stumpf asked.

Schreiber said someone on the city council had to make a motion to consider rescinding the previous motion.

Stumpf then asked, “After discussion does one of the three want to make a motion to reconsider the last motion?” Hilgart said he would make a motion, with Gabler seconding.

The motion to rescind for a different motion passed 3-2, with Hilgart, Stumpf and Gabler voting yes and Fair and Davidson voting no.

Hilgart said wanted to make one more point during discussion. “I agree with Jim that Randall does a great job, but looking at it, in an attempt not to micromanage staff, but looking at this in black-and-white, part of the thing with the documentation that was provided is we had a lot of ‘pros’ for not doing it, but we didn’t have any ‘cons.’ I’m not blaming anyone for that, but if we would have had some more ‘cons’ we would have had some additional discussion.”

Hilgart then made a motion to have Hi-Way Liquors open for Sunday liquor, with the council revisiting sales and quarterly reports moving forward.

Finance Director Wayne Oberg said that he wanted to point out that last year’s Hi-Way Liquors numbers were skewed by intersection construction in Monticello.

“You will probably see a bump up in the numbers regardless of being open on Sunday or not, because we had County Road 75 and Highway 25 work and that dampened the summer quite a bit. Things really didn’t pick up until September. You need to take that with a grain of salt.”

Gabler approved Hilgart’s motion to have Hi-Way Liquors open on Sundays. Stumpf then asked for discussion.

Fair replied, “I still feel that we would not have any numbers to compare anything to unless we wait six months, except for those two Sundays [in December],” Fair said. “I really don’t know how we would make any comparison. All of the communities around us would be doing the same thing.”

Stumpf said the council shouldn’t be comparing Monticello to other cities that were moving to Sunday liquor. “We are unique,” Stumpf said. “We don’t need to compare ourselves to Big Lake, Elk River, Maple Lake or Buffalo. We don’t need to do that. It’s a business.”

Fair said if the city did approve Sunday liquor, it would be adding an extra day of operational cost without knowing if the city would lose or gain anything.”

Stumpf replied, “If we stay closed, we won’t know it either.” Gabler said Hi-Way Liquor would not have to be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Sunday. “They could be open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. That’s up to Randall to schedule and find the part-time folks.”

Oberg said he wanted to comment one final time before the council made its decision.

“What’s going to happen is you are going to get the numbers on a monthly basis, and whatever bias you have is what you are going to see in those numbers,” Oberg said. “If you support Sunday opening, you’ll see it. If you are against it, you are going to see that it was validated by the numbers. I guarantee it.”

Gabler said Oberg had made a valid point. “It’s the same way when we talk about city debt,” she said. “One councilmember might think it’s too high, and I may think it’s too low. You just don’t know.”

Fair said the city would be adding another day of operating cost. “That’s what I’m concerned about,” he said. “We don’t know if the revenue is going to justify that,” he said.

Hilgart said the research he had conducted of other states with Sunday liquor sales indicated a 1 percent to 3 percent increase in gross revenue.

“For us, that would be $50,000 to $100,000 based upon $5 million in sales.,” he said. “If you get 1 percent, you are going to lose, if you get 3 percent, you are going to break even. We are going to lose profit, either way, because we will have extra costs and less sales.”

Stumpf then called for the vote. He, Gabler, and Hilgart voted in favor of Sunday sales, with Fair and Davidson voting against. The motion passed 3-2 with no additonal discussion or action by the city council.

Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]