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Council votes to support ordinance change

The Austin City Council took two tentative steps this week toward making it a bit more convenient for Austin residents to buy liquor.

During a Monday work session, the council voted 5-1 in support of changing a city ordinance to allow liquor stores to stay open until 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday instead of the current 8 p.m. — which would match state statute — and the council voted 3-2 with Judy Enright abstaining to allow the sale at other establishments like convenience stores to sell 3.2 beer.

Both motions must still pass at a full council meeting, and members could change their votes.

In both instances, the city is looking to discuss issues where Austin is more restrictive than the state statutes.

Most cities allow liquor stores to be open until 10 p.m. during the week, while Austin currently makes the stores close at 8 p.m. Monday to Thursday, but they can stay open until 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

While Hy-Vee supported the change, smaller liquor store owners spoke out against it. Bell Liquor owner Sheri Kokot called it an added expense for labor and utilities, and she said the later hours make encourage thieves and robbers to target the stores.

But Council member Janet Anderson noted the change in city ordinance will not require businesses to stay open. Business owners will still be able to set their own hours of operations.

“The stores that choose to close at 8 [p.m.], that’s their choice,” Anderson said.

Kokot also wrote in the letter that allowing 3-2 beer at convenience or grocery stores would cut into liquor store’s business since they only sell alcohol.

Council member David Hagen agreed and spoke out against the 3.2 beer change, arguing it would hurt liquor stores and their limited product supply.

But Anderson described both issues as a basic convenience for the general public.

“I don’t see it as being a big problem,” she said.

Council member Michael Jordal spoke about Austin hosting things like the Greater Coalition of Minnesota Cities Conference, where visitors complained of not being able to get alcohol later because Austin is more restrictive than the state statutes.

Jordal said approving the changes would help the city be more welcoming and conducive to visitors.

“I think being more permissive in general is a good thing,” Jordal said.

A few people spoke about complications with people selling 3.2 beer to already intoxicated residents at convenience stores, but others noted it’d be the same as people selling liquor at other establishments — employees simply have to use good judgment.

Mike Ankeny, who owns Ankeny’s Mini-Mart, argued very few people go to a liquor store to buy 3.2 beer, and he spoke in support of letting convenience stores sell 3.2 beer. He noted it’d be another way to try to bring customers into his stores, while others can choose not to sell it.

“They don’t have to sell it if they don’t want to sell it,” Ankeny said.

Austin Police Chief Brian Krueger told the council he didn’t expect either change would make for a big difference in terms of people being more likely to drink and drive or commit alcohol-related crimes.