Council approves VFW's liquor license transfer
The transfer of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post's liquor license to a new location downtown was approved by the Mitchell City Council on Monday night at City Hall.
The council had voted at its last meeting Jan. 20 to delay a transfer of the VFW's retail on-sale liquor license from its old address, 105 N. Main St., to its new address, 215 N. Main St., after two nearby business owners at the new location objected.
VFW members met last week to discuss the concerns with several downtown business owners, including Jim Johnston, owner of Harve's Sports Shop, 213 N. Main St., who spoke at length against the transfer at the last council meeting, and spoke again at Monday night's meeting.
Johnston is worried a bar moving in next door will harm his business. He is specifically concerned by the possibility of bar patrons smoking cigarettes outside the VFW, forcing his customers to walk past smokers.
"If you approve this transfer tonight, I'll have to live with the reality and the smell," Johnston said to the council.
VFW Post Commander Pat Ziegler also spoke at Monday night's meeting. Ziegler acknowledged Johnston's concern, but said a space behind the new building, away from Main Street, will be available to smokers.
"I have no doubt that by providing a suitable area, it will naturally attract smokers away from our front door," Ziegler said.
Ziegler said the VFW will do everything it can to ensure its patrons smoke in an area set aside for them in the rear of the building.
"We do believe these concerns should not stand in the way of the transfer of our license," he said.
Ziegler also told the council that the VFW will install surveillance cameras on the front of its new building with the intention of deterring and capturing any bad behavior.
Johnston told the council that even if an area is set aside for smokers, he is still worried they will gather in front of the building and, with no law that says otherwise, he and other nearby business owners will be forced to put up with it.
"I can't do anything except smell their filthy smoke," he said.
Johnston is also worried, he said, about the impact the issue could have on his business and that customers could be deterred from entering his business because of smokers gathered in front of the building.
"If it deters even one, it's wrong," he said.
State law only allows a governing body to approve or deny transfers of retail liquor licenses based on whether it "deems the applicant a suitable person to hold the license," and whether it "considers the proposed location suitable."
"There is, frankly, nothing the City Council could do even if it wanted to do something," said Councilman Mel Olson.
The VFW's old building was damaged during the demolition of the old Longhorn Bar, with which it shared a common wall. The council approved the city's purchase of the damaged VFW building for $175,000 in September.
The VFW's membership later voted to approve their own purchase of a building located at 215 N. Main St., which was occupied by Prairie Breeze Gallery, an art gallery and gift shop. According to Pat Ziegler, post commander, the VFW purchased the property for approximately $79,000, less than half the amount it was paid by the city for its old building.
Ziegler said Monday night that the VFW, which is currently in the process of renovating its new building, expects to be open by March 1.