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Crow Wing County Board: Board balks at beer for the fair - again

Citing tradition, the Crow Wing County Board once again voted to restrict beer sales during the Crow Wing County Fair--keeping it one of the last dry fairs in the state.

Commissioners Paul Koering, left, Rosemary Franzen, Doug Houge, Paul Thiede and Rachel Reabe Nystrom listen as community members offer testimony concerning the sale of beer at the county fair. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch
Commissioners Paul Koering, left, Rosemary Franzen, Doug Houge, Paul Thiede and Rachel Reabe Nystrom listen as community members offer testimony concerning the sale of beer at the county fair. Chelsey Perkins/Brainerd Dispatch

Citing tradition, the Crow Wing County Board once again voted to restrict beer sales during the Crow Wing County Fair-keeping it one of the last dry fairs in the state.

Tuesday's decision was the third time in three years the county board rejected the fair board's plea to permit the sale of 3.2 percent beer on fairgrounds during the week of the county fair. Previously, the request never made it beyond the Oak Lawn Township Board level.

Gary Doucette, fair board president, recounted the fair board's struggle with earning revenue to cover the costs of repairs, the burden of which was increased following storm damage last summer. Doucette said information he's acquired from other fair boards pointed to the possibility of a potential $100,000 in gross revenue from installing a beer garden. He said if approved, the fair board would partner with veterans organizations to serve the beers and share revenues.

Commissioner Paul Koering listed a number of events, including other area fairs and church bazaars, asking Doucette whether they served beer. When Doucette answered yes to each, Koering said, "I think you get my point."

Commissioner Paul Thiede asked Doucette how much the fair board received in revenue from the 51 weeks during which it was permitted to sell beer. Doucette said basically none, because the Brainerd Lakes Curling Association sold on its liquor license for events. The fair board, in turn, receives the revenue from the space rentals.

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Thiede said Doucette was giving a "political answer" and admonished him for being unable to offer a dollar figure of what the fair board made in revenue.

"No wonder you don't have any money," Thiede said.

"Really?" Doucette shot back.

"If you don't keep track of your revenue," Thiede responded.

Doucette said the two groups would share profits of a kickoff fair event planned for this summer, but otherwise, the curling club reaps the profits of liquor sales.

"Profits on our pop sales, I'll tell you right down to the dollar," Doucette said.

Sharon Ryappy, fair board secretary, later clarified the reason the curling club's license was used was because they are authorized for stronger alcohol sales than the 3.2 percent alcohol license the fair board holds.

A number of people addressed the board during a public comment period-nearly the same roster of concerned residents as previous years. Among those were people who'd lost loved ones to drunk driving and residents concerned about the county fair losing its family-friendly image. Several suggested charging at the gate or developing other creative sources of revenue, besides becoming reliant on beer sales. The county should be concerned about taking on the kind of liability related to alcohol consumption, residents stated.

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Pat Bluth lost her daughter Tammy in an alcohol-related crash and has addressed the board concerning beer sales at the fair each of the last three years.

She said she hoped the fair could demonstrate to young children that "beer is not the only way to have fun." Bluth added Crow Wing County was ranked 10th of the most dangerous drunk driving counties by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, and this showed a problem already existed in the area.

Fair board member Sheri Doucimo, who said she was new to the fair board, said she didn't understand why the county fair was singled out. Also on the board's consent agenda was approval of dozens of other liquor licenses, Doucimo pointed out, that never receive the level of scrutiny from the board or public as the one requested by the fair board.

Koering made a motion to approve the license including the week of the fair, as recommended by the Oak Lawn Township Board, the county sheriff and the county attorney. Chairman Doug Houge seconded the motion.

Houge said as a bar/restaurant owner himself at which alcohol is served, he considers his business to be family-friendly.

"That's because I choose how to run it," Houge said. "Families in my place are very comfortable because I choose to manage that way."

Houge said he thought the image of the fair as drawing a crowd of people intent on getting drunk was not accurate. He said of all the liquor licenses approved Tuesday, the one at the fair would present the biggest opportunity for the county to control its application.

"These bartenders are trained," Houge said. "They know when to identify intoxicated people. It isn't like we're just out there whipping drinks down people's throats."

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Houge asked whether the county would have the authorization to pull the license during the fair, if by the second day things became out of control. Administrative Services Director Deborah Erickson said she believed the sheriff's office could suspend the license, as it does in the case of tax delinquency.

Thiede said although he didn't see a beer garden at the fair as causing Crow Wing County to move to the ninth spot on the dangerous drunk driving list, he also appreciated the "history and continued image" of a dry fair.

"I've seen some pretty inebriated people (at the fair) without a beer garden," Thiede said. "It's not a panacea. But it's a historical treasure that we have that, the image of the Crow Wing County Fair as a family affair."

Thiede added he wasn't convinced the fair board utilized the 51 weeks it had the opportunity to sell alcohol, and charging an entrance fee remained an unexplored possibility.

Thiede offered an amendment to the motion, to disclude the week of the fair, which Commissioner Rachel Reabe Nystrom seconded. The motion to amend passed 3-2, with Koering and Houge opposed.

Nystrom addressed Doucette, stating she appreciated the fair board's hard work.

"I appreciate your leadership and I think we have a great county fair," Nystrom said. "But I am proud that our county fair is alcohol-free. That's what I will be supporting."
A motion to approve the fair board's 3.2 percent beer license for 51 weeks passed 4-1, with Houge opposed. Koering said although he was opposed to the idea of banning beer at the fair, he wanted to ensure the fair board had access to the liquor license the county board could support.

Related Topics: CROW WING COUNTYCROW WING COUNTY BOARDCROW WING COUNTY FAIR
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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