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Bemidji’s new municipal liquor store, First City Liquor, set to open June 1

The sign is installed at First City Liquor on Friday morning in Bemidji. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 4
Public Works Director Craig Gray talks about the new features at First City Liquor. The city's new store is set to open June 1. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
First City Liquor, which will replace Discount Liquor in Bemidji, will be 16,300 square feet. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
Public Works Director Craig Gray walks through the cooler area of the new First City Liquor on Friday. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

BEMIDJI—The signs are on the building and the shelves are ready to be stocked at the city's new liquor store in Bemidji.

The 16,300 square-feet First City Liquor is roughly 90 percent complete and is expected to open June 1, according to City Public Works Director Craig Gray. The structure at 500 Paul Bunyan Drive NW will replace the 50-year-old Discount Liquor, located adjacent to the new store.

City Finance Director Ron Eischens said the new store will double the retail floor space, allowing for more products. Additionally, First City Liquor has a larger basement with an industrial elevator to allow for better storage.

"We're getting a temporary certificate of occupancy now to allow liquor store staff to start moving product from Discount to the new store," Gray said. "Then, demolition on Discount Liquor will start May 28, and that's where the new parking lot will be. We're hoping to have all of that new parking lot done by July 1."

Until demolition and construction work is finished, Gray said residents are encouraged to park on 23rd Street Northwest. A sidewalk is also in place connecting the new store to 23rd Street and Paul Bunyan Drive.

In total, when factoring in architectural fees, the new building, parking lot and demolition of Discount Liquor, the costs come to $4.1 million. The project was approved in May 2018 in a 4-3 vote with Mayor Rita Albrecht, council members Michael Meehlhause and Ron Johnson, and former Councilor Dave Larson in favor. Voting against were council member Nancy Erickson and former councilors Richard Lehmann and Roger Hellquist.

Discount Liquor (First City Liquor when it opens) is part of the city's municipal liquor operation. The city also runs Lakeview Liquor, located in a 25-year-old building at 510 Paul Bunyan Drive SE.

According to the Minnesota Auditor's office, the city's liquor operation had a net profit of $645,024 in 2017. Profits from both stores are used to reduce property taxes and fund special projects in the city. Annually, the profits reduce property taxes by nearly 8 percent, or $451,000, Eischens said.

Based on the report from the state auditor, Bemidji is one of 190 Minnesota cities operating 223 municipal liquor stores. The majority are in Greater Minnesota, while 19 are in the seven-county Twin Cities metro area.

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

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