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No takers yet for sidewalk wine in downtown Mitchell

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It’s been nearly a month since Mitchell voters approved an ordinance allowing wine service on downtown sidewalks, and so far no businesses have applied for a permit to take part in sales.

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The ordinance, which was approved with the support of 60 percent of voters in the June 3 election, allows any downtown business making at least half of its total income from food sales to apply for a permit to sell and serve wine on adjacent sidewalks. There is a $25 application fee for businesses that apply.

The first day Mitchell businesses could submit an application to the city was June 10, a day after the council approved the results of the June 3 election, according to Deputy Finance Officer Cindy Roth.

Karmen McCain, owner of Café Teresa, located at 312 N. Main St., said Tuesday she plans to apply for a permit within the next few weeks. While she only has room outside her business for two tables, McCain believes the new ordinance will benefit all of downtown.

“It could open the doors for new businesses and a different type of clientele who want to come downtown and have a glass of wine outside,” McCain said.

McCain said she didn’t expect the ordinance to be approved by voters, given the city’s history with similar issues. When given the chance in recent years, Mitchell voters have rejected other proposals involving alcohol. In 2010, voters defeated, 56-44 percent, a proposal to allow off-sale liquor sales in the city on Sundays. In 2007, a proposal to lift the cap on the number of malt-beverage licenses in the city was rejected by voters 51-49 percent. Both proposals had the support of the mayor and a majority of the council.

“Mitchell is a very conservative city, so I just was surprised,” McCain said

Café Teresa has served wine inside its business since 2007, McCain said.

The ordinance was referred to a public vote shortly after it was passed by the Mitchell City Council in June 2013. Council President Jeff Smith, who first introduced the ordinance to the council, said Tuesday the decision to take part in sidewalk wine service was always intended to be left to the businesses.

“If people start asking for it, then the businesses can decide if they want to purchase the license and take advantage of it,” Smith said.

Smith said the limited number of downtown businesses that meet the criteria to apply for a sidewalk wine permit has likely contributed to the slow start.

According to Roth, only four downtown businesses have an active retail on-off sale wine license, which is a requirement for businesses that wish to apply for a sidewalk wine permit. They are Café Teresa, Scoreboard Pub & Grille, Casey’s and the Corn Palace. Cornerstone Coffee House & Deli, which recently changed ownership, did not renew its license this year, Roth said.

There is an annual $500 fee for businesses that apply for a retail on-off sale wine license.

“That’s where they have to ask if the investment is worth the return,” Smith said.

Councilman Mel Olson, a critic of the ordinance, said he still doubts the proponents’ claim that the addition of sidewalk wine service could impact the economy downtown by attracting more people, including tourists, to businesses because of the more activity outside.

“I’ve been in politics a long time and I recognize hyperbole when I see it,” Olson said. “And that was hyperbole.”

Olson suggested bumping out the sidewalks near businesses that decide to serve wine, or even food, on the sidewalk to give passersby more room to walk.

“I think it would make it more comfortable for the people who are outdoors now,” he said.

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