The Star Tribune has (finally) caught on to the curious story of Dan Kerkinni, whose attempts to open a craft beer-oriented liquor store in Uptown has highlighted the complex and restrictive regulatory regime controlling liquor stores in Minneapolis. As you likely know by now, Kerkinni was first Bock-blocked by the City Council, with Council Member Meg Tuthill pushing through new distancing requirements to prevent Kerkinni’s store from opening at 26th & Hennepin. His second attempt to open the store, in a small retail space a block south at 27th & Hennepin, looks doomed to fail, as the young entrepreneur (and his brother Pierre) have been outmaneuvered by Kowalski’s Market, which has received land use approvals for a wine shop addition at their 24th & Hennepin grocery store.
Three quotes from the Star Tribune’s article stand out:
Grant Wilson, the city’s manager of businesses licenses, says the system “is working well” because “stores are located in all parts of the city and we do not see areas with an overabundance of them.”
This begs the question: what qualifies as an overabundance? Imagery of a new skid row on Hennepin Avenue seems pretty far-fetched. In much of the city, there may not even be additional demand for liquor stores. But in a dense, bustling area like Uptown, there appears to be an under-served market. After all, Kowalski’s would not have so quickly leaped into the fray if their analysts didn’t think the honey was sweet. Which brings us to the second quote of interest:
For some, like Hennepin-Lake Liquors owner Phil Colich, even 48 [liquor stores in the city] is too many. “It should be a mile between stores,” Colich said. “We’ve got too many liquor stores in the city of Minneapolis.”
And in a single quote, Colich effortlessly summarizes one of the key outcomes of the current regulatory regime — the de facto subsidization of existing liquor stores. Who can blame Colich for his perspective? The stricter the rules, the more money he makes (he is notorious for opposing Sunday sales as well, for much the same reason). Consumers lose out from the diminished competition, but this has been a trend in the liquor industry for decades anyway (see: Anheuser-Busch InBev).
What does all this mean for the fabric of our neighborhoods, commercial districts, and city as whole?
“If you take a look at the map … there’s virtually no spaces left in the city,” said Kerkinni, who hopes to open a south Minneapolis store specializing in craft beers and microbrews. The city has told him to start looking in the suburbs.
And that is precisely how to keep a storefront empty.