BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
The public safety committee moved forward Tuesday night with a motion to strike the “remote sales” clause from Rhinelander’s liquor ordinances. Contingents from the local Trig’s and Walmart stores were on hand as the committee discussed pros and cons of allowing alcohol to be merchandised outside of its licensed premises.
The resolution will be forwarded to the full city council in June, where the council is expected to set a July public hearing before officially changing the ordinance, according to public safety chairman Steve Sauer. The city will also get a formal legal opinion from its attorney, Carrie Miljevich.
The ordinance clause in question currently prevents Class A liquors from being sold outside walled and licensed premises in retail locations throughout Rhinelander, which precludes stores from displaying various alcohols with other foods. The city’s laws are significantly more restrictive than many other locations throughout the state, according to police chief Lloyd Gauthier, although he noted there were a couple locations whom he had contacted that had similar regulations.
Trig’s director of Cellar 70 operations, Jeff Tewes, explained that out of six store locations, only Rhinelander’s store is unable to merchandise wines, beer, and other drinks alongside complementary foods.
“What we’re really looking to do here is enhance our customer shopping experience,” Tewes said. He noted that their desire was not “to fill the store with liquor,” as none of their other locations displayed hard liquors outside of the licensed premises.
Tewes is based at the Trig’s in Stevens Point, which he said had similar regulations up until a few years ago.
Alderperson David Holt said he had discussed the issue with several constituents, all of whom he said had not understood why the ordinance was there to begin with. “I didn’t really get any feedback that people thought it would be a problem,” he added.
“With all due respect, I don’t think the fact that it was there for a long time is a justification for keeping something there.”
“I’m in favor of regulations as long as they make sense,” he noted. Holt explained that he wanted to ensure that the ordinance was examined separately from the way its change would affect store decisions. It was important, he said, to draw a distinction between personal business and the ordinance itself, and focus on the reason it existed in the first place.
Walmart’s assistant manager Mike Wudi said they were on the “same page” as Trig’s in their desire to “align with what most people have in Wisconsin.” He said their systems and processes were similar to Trig’s, in that their registers did not permit the sale of alcohol after the prescribed times of night, and that they had a “perfect record” in regard to sales to minors.
Sauer reminded the committee that while wines and other liquors cannot be sold after 9pm, beer can be sold until midnight.
The clause that the committee is proposing to erase from the existing law is found in Chapter 4.05.01 (6) (P), “No merchandise may be displayed or stored at the remote sale location.”
The motion passed the committee unanimously, notwithstanding some expressions of caution when the issue was first raised last month and again this week.