BEMIDJI -- Liquor sales increased substantially in 2020 across the state of Minnesota, including right here in Bemidji.

According to data from the Minnesota Department of Revenue, gross liquor receipts last year increased about 20% for municipal and non-municipal liquor stores. Locally, the city of Bemidji operates two liquor stores inside its limits, and in total, sales increased about 29%.

Bemidji Finance Director Ron Eischens said the municipal operations for 2020 generated $8.4 million in sales, up from $6.5 million in 2019. Additionally, the store had 35,000 more customers from the year before.

"I'd attribute the substantial increase to two things," Eischens said. "One, the First City Liquor Store being open for a full 12 months in 2020, and second, coronavirus impacts to the liquor store business in relation to restaurants and bars being closed."

The latter reason Eischens mentioned took place twice in 2020. Gov. Tim Walz initiated executive orders to close bars and restaurants to mitigate COVID-19 from mid-March through early June and again in mid-November through December.

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While sales increased, though, Eischens noted the city's older store, Lake View Liquor had a decrease of $171,000.

"Part of that is because of the newness of First City Liquor Store," Eischens said. "The other part is the year before, in 2019, was when First City was under construction so many customers went to Lake View Liquor. So, sales in 2019 were higher than normal."

A 16,300 square-foot store, First City Liquor opened in June 2019, replacing the 50-year-old Discount Liquor. The building was approved by the Bemidji City Council in May 2018 in a 4-3 vote and built at a cost of nearly $4 million.

According to Eischens, profits generated by the liquor stores are partially being used to make debt payments on bonds sold to build the store. In most cases, the remaining profits are used to help reduce property taxes.

State auditor report

For 2019, Bemidji's municipal operations generated a net profit of $381,564. The amount was shared in the Minnesota State Auditor's new liquor operations report for 2019.

The document provided fiscal data for the 215 municipal liquor stores operated by 182 Minnesota cities across the state. The majority of those stores are in Greater Minnesota, while 18 cities in the seven-county metro area also operate shops.

In total, the municipal stores in 2019 had sales of $372.1 million, an increase of $11.9 million, or 3.3% from 2018. Profit-wise, the stores had a net gain of $27.8 million.

The Headwaters Region, which includes Bemidji, as well as Akeley, Bagley, Baudette, Blackduck, Clearbrook, Kelliher, Mahnomen, Nevis and Park Rapids, had total sales of $17.5 million.

For nearby cities, the data showed the following:

  • Bagley's operation had sales totaling $1.5 million and a net profit of $52,128.
  • Big Falls' operations had $328,478 in sales and a net loss of $10,163.
  • Blackduck's operation had sales of $1.2 million with a net profit of $125,558.
  • Clearbrook had sales of $543,865 with a net profit of $45,570.
  • Hackensack's operation earned $1.3 million in sales and generated a net profit of $28,547.
  • The operations in Kelliher generated $660,946 with a net profit of $30,901.
  • Mahnomen had sales of $934,511, with a net loss of $62,718.
  • Northome's operation earned $340,384 and produced a net profit of $2,792.
  • In Walker, the operation had sales of $972,085, with a net profit of $53,508.