One of the issues the Council took up at the last Council meeting was a controversial legislative support item regarding a Trader Joe's store on Lyndale. Representative Karen Clark has sponsored a bill at the State Legislature exempting this specific proposed store from a rule that limits how close a new liquor store can be to another existing liquor store.
Current City ordinance states that a new liquor store must be at least 2,000 feet away from an existing store. At this location, Hum's Liquor is just down the block. It seems that Trader Joe's business formula requires that they have a beer/wine component to their stores. For them to open a store at this location, the Legislature will have to pass Rep Clark's bill exempting them from our rules.
I did not support signing onto this bill, for a variety of reasons. First, I do not believe this is a good way to make policy. There are at least sixteen places in Minneapolis that are at least 2,000 feet from an existing liquor store and zoned correctly for this intensity of retail. If Trader Joe's wants to open a new store in Minneapolis, more power to them. But they can look for a spot that fits the laws as they are, just as any other business would have to. Some of my colleagues have pushed for loosening the liquor rules to allow new stores within 1,000 feet of existing stores, but they haven't convinced the majority of the Council to enact this as the citywide rule. I simply can't abide bending the rules for one business based on its lobbying prowess and access to policymakers. This is not a level playing field for fair competition.
Second, I agree with my colleague Scott Benson that this will likely set a new precedent. When a new liquor store (or grocery store that wants to sell beer and wine) wants to open in a previously disallowed location, they now know what to do: find a friendly legislator and get a specific exemption from the rules made just for you.
Third, and most importantly, this action is at odds with everything we say about supporting small businesses. The direct competitors within a block include the Wedge Coop, a homegrown, cooperatively-owned grocery store, and Hum's Liquor's, a single-entrepreneur business that has been in operation for over 40 years. On this block of all places, why would the City do special favors for a multinational corporation (Trader Joe's parent company is based out of Germany), rather than strengthening and supporting our own small businesses? When Minneapolitans spend a dollar at an outfit like Trader Joe's, how much of it recirculates in the local economy? I'd venture that it's significantly less than when the same dollar is spent at a small business or coop. I would love to see our City moving further in the direction of supporting small businesses over multinational corporations - instead, when we do favors, it always seems to be for the largest operators.
This was a close vote. The support item only passed 7-6. I was joined in voting against it by Council Members Benson, Colvin Roy, Glidden, Goodman and Hofstede. Those who voted in favor were CMs Hodges, Johnson, Lilligren, Ostrow, Remington, Samuels, and Schiff.
This question will come back to the Council, if the Legislature passes Rep. Clark's bill. I will almost certainly oppose the license when it returns to us, for many of the same reasons above, and will work to find one more Council Member to join those of us who opposed this from the start.