Fargo Liquor Code Improvement
Fargo’s current liquor code is a complicated mix of secondary markets, food to alcohol revenue ratios, and twenty-six distinct types of licenses. Its convoluted structure is a cultural and economic bottleneck that obstructs economic growth and runs counter to the public well-being’s best interest. The current system is not the result of deliberate action, but rather the lack of a holistic liquor code structure, which has forced city officials to respond to new challenges and opportunities on an ad hoc basis.
We at Folkways believe that the current liquor code is a hindrance to our economy, culture, and community well-being. In order to obtain a liquor license for a new bar, liquor store, or restaurant with a bar in Fargo, entrepreneurs have to pay an initial issuance fee of anywhere from $50,000 to $300,000. These extremely high fees stem from the fact that in Fargo the most prized liquor licenses are transferrable and can be sold on a secondary market, which raises start-up costs and hurts local entrepreneurs looking to open their own establishments. The difficulties resulting from the high start up costs not only hurt Fargo’s economy, but its culture as well. The current system favors national chains that can pay the high costs of obtaining a license, not local residents who want to open new, creative establishments. In addition, the lack of a music venue liquor license has a direct and measurable effect of Fargo’s music scene. In order for Fargo to become a music destination, the liquor code has to support the opening of alcohol serving music venues. Finally, the current code is also detrimental to the public’s well-being. The current code supports viewing licenses as property, not as a privilege with inherent responsibilities attached to it. This is manifested in the watered down infraction enforcement code which makes it nearly impossible for irresponsible establishments to face repercussions for their actions. Ultimately, by moving toward more of a three strike system that penalizes irresponsible license holders the liquor code will be in a much better position to keep Fargo safe and vibrant.
So far Folkways has been a leading voice in Fargo’s liquor code simplification conversations. We have conducted over sixty stakeholder interviews with city officials, license holders, law enforcement, and leaders in the sectors of economic development and tourism. We have also created multiple memos, one of which was shared with the Liquor Control Board at its August meeting—at which, a taskforce was formed to seek out liquor code simplification. We are excited about the future for Fargo’s liquor code. The creation of a taskforce was an important step in achieving simplification and we look forward to continuing to be part of the conversations surrounding our liquor code.