FARGO — Changes may lie ahead for off-sale liquor establishments in downtown Fargo, as part of a plan to make the area safer.

Mayor Tim Mahoney said requiring off-sale stores to close earlier in the evening, or banning off-sale liquor altogether downtown, are up for consideration.

The mayor said he’s concerned about people drinking all night long after the bars close. “(They’re) buying off-sale, then walking about with a bottle,” Mahoney said.

According to City Commissioner Tony Grindberg, ending those sales earlier, at 10 p.m., could help stop the rush to buy liquor close to last call. Other measures, some already underway, include increased foot patrols in the downtown area by Fargo police officers.

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The discussion about safety comes on the heels of a fatal shooting in the early morning hours of June 7 on the edge of downtown. At this point, however, there's no evidence that alcohol was a factor in the crime.

The Empire Tavern and Empire Liquors are seen April 13, 2018, in downtown Fargo. Forum file photo
The Empire Tavern and Empire Liquors are seen April 13, 2018, in downtown Fargo. Forum file photo

Grindberg attributes increased crime to the city’s rapid growth and other societal challenges. “Alcohol is one of those contributing factors. We know that,” he said.

Kari Grafstrom of Fargo, who lived downtown up until about a year ago, said she doesn’t think off-sale stores should be singled out for an increase in crime.

“Off-sale is not the problem downtown. The problem downtown is there’s alcohol everywhere,” Grafstrom said.

Mahoney and Police Chief David Todd emphasized at the June 17 City Commission meeting that they believe Fargo is a safe place and outlined several steps to make it even safer.

The mayor was responding to the shooting, and to an editorial in The Forum questioning issues surrounding crime in the city.

A recent letter to the editor written by Josie Danz, manager at Zandbroz Variety, which neighbors an off-sale liquor store downtown, also drew attention to the problem. In it, Danz accused city leaders of “willfully fueling Fargo’s drinking culture,” and suggested downtown off-sale stores follow the lead taken by another liquor establishment.

Bernie’s Liquors of Fargo recently announced it is phasing out single-serving alcohol bottles as a way to promote a more responsible drinking culture and reduce plastic waste.

Should the city of Fargo limit the hours of off-sale liquor operations downtown, as a safety measure?

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The Forum stopped in at several of the off-sale liquor establishments downtown, which include Empire Liquors, Bismarck Tavern, Steve’s Package Store, and Chub’s Pub and Package Place.

Employees said they were unable to comment on any proposed changes to off-sale operations. The stores currently open as early as 8 or 9 a.m., and close anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m.

Both Grindberg and Mahoney said bar and off-sale operators, along with other business owners and community members will have a say in any changes that are proposed.

“I would like to try the quiet, persuasive way first,” Mahoney said, noting that owners are generally willing to work with the city on these issues.

The dynamic of downtown Fargo is evolving, the mayor said, and so should its culture around drinking.

“The time is now for it to change,” he said.