By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN A public hearing for the Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store will take place Tuesday, Nov. 20 at 6:30 p.m., before the regular city council meeting.
Although the liquor store is doing better this year than in years past, a public hearing is required if a municipal liquor store has operated at a deficit for at least two of the last three years.
Howard Lake’s municipal liquor store has been operating at a net loss for the last six years.
After Myra Laway began managing the liquor store in 2011, it made a net profit most months. However, it ended the year with a net loss of $45,641 due to the bond payment for the remodeling project.
Total sales in 2011 were $786,860, and total disbursements were $832,500.
In 2012, the liquor store has continued to make a net profit most months, and as of the end of October 2012, the liquor store has a year-to-date net profit of $4,638.
It remains to be seen if the liquor store can make up the 2012 bond payment of $47,480, due in November, before the end of the year.
If it can, the liquor store will either break even or end the year with a net profit. If not, it will again end the year with a net loss.
Over the years, several factors have been blamed for the liquor store’s inability to prosper, including the bond payments for remodeling done in 2005, the smoking ban of 2007, increased competition in nearby communities, and the economy.
In recent years, the city has transferred money out of the general fund to cover the net losses at the liquor store.
Years ago, when the liquor store made a profit, money was transferred into the city’s general fund.
For instance, between 2000 and 2005, the liquor store made net profits of $469,572, and transferred $395,000 to the general fund.
Between 1990 and 1999, the liquor store had net profits of $958,691, and transferred $630,926 to the general fund.
HL remains optimistic about liquor store
The Howard Lake City Council, city administrator, and liquor store manager remain optimistic the liquor store will again be profitable and will soon be able to contribute again to the city’s general fund.
In the next year, numerous changes, big and small, are being planned to attract and retain customers, according to City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller.
For instance, under consideration is expanding the liquor store’s wine offerings, and possibly creating a wine of the month club.
If that happens, staff will be trained so they are knowledgeable about wine pairings and selection.
Along those same lines, an expansion of the craft beer selection to include more local, specialty brews is being considered.
The city and manager are also encouraging staff at the liquor store to become more involved in the community by participating in HL Thrive and the Howard Lake Business Association, and assisting with food drives and pictures with Santa.
It is hoped that this will allow the public to better put a face and a name to the business, Haggenmiller said.
To get people in the door, the city and management would like to establish a continuous stream of special events, live entertainment, and other fun activities, Haggenmiller said.
The goal is to make the liquor store a destination and an experience, rather than simply a bar, he added.
Another option on the table is expanded food offerings so the bar area will be considered a full restaurant.
Additional services, such as the lottery, electronic gaming, and even DVD rentals, are being investigated as potential ways to get people in the door.
Although the liquor store has already expanded its business hours throughout the week, another possibility is to be open Sundays for on-sale liquor purchases.
Recently, new bar stools were purchased, and other cosmetic upgrades to the interior and exterior of the building are being considered.
Funds may be sought from the Legacy program to assess the overall historical significance of the building, with a long-term goal of revitalizing the upper level for larger events, Haggenmiller said.
The upgrades will become part of a larger push for reinvestment and improvement along the US Highway 12 business district in Howard Lake, with the liquor store becoming much more of a cornerstone for the district, he added.
Finally, the city and management are planning to actively work together with other Howard Lake food, entertainment, and lounge establishments to make Howard Lake a destination, rather than a pass-through community.
This will also help to strengthen the local business base cohesively, Haggenmiller said.