Total Wine triumphs in Minnetonka

Large-scale liquor store near Ridgedale Mall approved 5-2 by council

By Gabby Landsverk, Sun Sailor Newspapers

The Minnetonka City Council approved a liquor license May 1 for a 25,775 square-foot Total Wine liquor store in the Ridgedale area, after failing to pass a similar proposal last fall for another location. The new site is at the Ridgedale Festival Center, 14200 Wayzata Blvd., near the intersection of Interstates 394 and 494.

The previous application failed Sept. 12 on a 4-3 council vote, short of the five-vote supermajority required to grant a liquor license.
That site, a 13,000 square foot warehouse on Plymouth Road, proposed near Whole Foods and Office Depot in the Ridgedale area, was subject to traffic concerns as well as questions of whether the city is already saturated with liquor stores.

Total Wine had previously agreed to buy the Minnetonka branch of Big Top liquors, to reduce the number of stores in the city. Minnetonka city policy sets a limit at 12 liquor stores within the city.
This time, the application included a proposal to buy two current liquor retailers, Big Top and US Wine.
“They don’t purchase the license from these other establishments. There is no such things as purchasing someone’s liquor license.,” Julie Wischnack, community development director, said. “The fact that they’re purchasing these other establishments is really about the count of liquor licenses … to help their case with the council.”

Currently, 11 liquor stores operate within the city. The buyouts would reduce the number to nine stores, for a total of 10 stores including Total Wine.
The proposed store would be the largest in the city, with substantially more square footage than the next-largest competitors. MGM Wine and Spirits at County Road 101 occupies 10,400 square feet, while Haskell’s on Wayzata Boulevard operates a 8,100 square-foot store. The remaining liquor stores within city limits are less than 5,000 square feet, according to a staff report, including Tonka Bottle Shop, Glen Lake Wine and Spirits, Strong Liquor, Trader Joe’s and Byerly’s.

Other liquor store owners in the city spoke against the proposed warehouse-style store, warning that the large size would drive up traffic and consumption as well as put local retailers out of business.
“They’re putting in a store that’s basically equal to the six smallest stores in Minnetonka,” said Chris Eriksson, of The Wine Shop and Spasso restaurant on Minnetonka Boulevard.
“If you do vote for it, you’re going to have probably three, four, five other liquor stores go under,” Eriksson said. “If that’s the community you want … national retailers sandwiching out your local places, then vote for it. If that’s not the community you want, then vote no.”

Tim Bevins, owner of Tonka Bottle Shop, said Total Wine already operates stores within 10 or 15 minutes of Minnetonka residents, including locations in Chanhassen and Bloomington.
“I think they’ve already met their model for the Twin Cities and anything further from here is only going to saturate the market and make it harder for smaller retailers to survive,” he said.
Residents had mixed reactions to the proposal, with some community members welcoming the shopping opportunity and others concerns about the increase in traffic.

A traffic study was conducted, indicated that the site could support the additional traffic, but with an increase in local delays.
As part of the conditions of the license approval, city staff members recommended improvements to the area’s traffic systems, such as collaboration with Metro Transit bus access, additional analysis and infrastructure, with Total Wine reimbursing 80 percent of the city’s expenses, up to $100,000.

Edward Cooper, head of public affairs and community relations for Total Wine, said the company would comply with the condition, but disagreed with the requirement.
“We very much want to be a member of the Minnetonka community. We’ve worked hard with the city. We’ve provided an unprecedented amount of information,” Cooper said. “We don’t believe it’s fair condition to or justification for licensure, but we want to be in Minnetonka and we will do it. … We will pay for it, but we disagree with the findings.”

Another condition is that Total Wine dismiss the appeal filed on the council’s denial of the previous application.

Councilmember Brad Wiersum, who previously voted against the proposal at the Plymouth Road location, was the deciding vote.
“I think this is a different circumstance,” Wiersum said. “The location is dramatically different than the other one. I’m not excited about Total Wine but I think they’ll do their job well, so I’ll support their applications with the conditions laid out.”

Councilmember Tim Bergstedt voiced his support for the proposal, as a proponent of the free market.
“Total Wine is a disruptor – they have a new way of selling beer, wine and spirits that hasn’t been there before. … That’s not good or bad. That’s a fact,” Bergstedt said. “Where the proposal is, that’s our regional center, it’s the lifeblood, retail-wise, of Minnetonka. … I’m sure they’ll be a good neighbor and I hope there will be some synergy between Total Wine and other businesses.”

Councilmembers Tony Wagner and Dick Allendorf, as well as Mayor Terry Schneider, also supported the added market competition, as well as the potential for growth in the city’s retail center.

Councilmember Patty Acomb, who previously opposed the proposal, continued to object to the large scale of the store, citing problems associated with additional liquor consumption and access in the city.
“With increased access comes increases potential for underage alcohol abuse. I look at it in very simple terms – I voted no last time and the way I look at it, I feel like the Ridgedale Area is adequately served,” Acomb said.
Councilmember Bob Ellingson agreed, also voting no on the proposal.

Contact Gabby Landsverk at [email protected]