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Two a.m. Is a Tricky Time

Peder Aalgaard | Staff Writer | 02/02/2011

In 2003, the State of Minnesota passed an ordinance to change bar closing time from one a.m. to two a.m.

Every bar within Minnesota was automatically allowed to close at two o’clock, unless a city chose to pass a different ordinance keeping the time earlier. The city of Bemidji did pass that ordinance, even though Beltrami County changed all bar closing times to two a.m.

At the beginning of last year, a developer made a proposal to purchase property surrounding the Sanford Center. Part of his business model was a two a.m. bar closing and made the request to change the current time. City Councilman Kevin Waldhausen and then-Councilman Jerry Downs supported that change and decided to put the request through the political process.

But since Waldhausen and Downs were the only ones supporting the change, it did not pass. Over the next eight months, Waldhausen did research on what would go into changing the time. He made sure the change would not affect the tax payers and researched whether there was a visible increase in crime in other cities that have the same closing time. Seeing none, the proposed change was brought to the city council.

After the necessary three hearings, the council voted and passed the ordinance with a majority vote of four to three. Even after the newly elected council began serving in January 2011, the second vote came with the same results.

While the city council decided to put the change into effect, the bars themselves decide their closing times, as long as it’s not later than 2 a.m. Not all owners agree with the new ordinance, and want to keep their closing times at one a.m. Aside from having to pay for new licensing and the labor cost of keeping employs later, there has also been worry of increased drunkenness around town.

Emily Sutton, owner of Backyard BBQ, feels that Bemidji is “too small of a town” for a closing time so late. She feels that a college town is not going to benefit enough from the potential to buy one more drink within one more hour. Students still celebrating from afterparties are going to have the time to make a purchase that could put them over the edge. There is also the concern of an increase in drunken driving.

“There are people waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. going to work while there are still drunk drivers,” said Sutton. That extra hour could be dangerous to students and other members of the community by opening up more room for reckless behavior.

Ann Hayes, owner of Brigid’s Cross Pub, is not sure if there will be a sales increase, or if it will just be the same sales within a greater amount of time. While the license is not something she is worried about, it is the increased labor costs and lighting costs that would be a problem should she chose to change the bar’s closing time. For her, the only bars that can truly benefit from this will be the businesses on the south shore.

This could also result in increased costs for law enforcement “at a time when [we] can’t afford any more expenses,” said Hayes.

Employees may also find it difficult to make the change as well.

“The only reason for this debate has been because an individual business attempted to dictate the two a.m. closing to our city council,” said D. P. Brumbaugh, an employee at Keg & Cork.

Brumbaugh also feels that there will be more cons than pros to this time change, and it will not help a minimum wage worker.

However, some of the newer bars, such as the Toasty Beaver and the Blue Ox, have not had such negative feelings about the new bar times. Tina Yorka, owner of the Blue Ox, was used to the two a.m. closing time after moving from Fargo, Minn. She sees no real need, but did think it would help business.

Chris Hunt, owner of the Toasty Beaver, said he wants to stay positive about this recent decision. While he is sympathetic of other bar owners, he thinks the later closing time could help business at the Toasty Beaver.

Hunt was surprised that the ordinance passed, since no one seemed to be in favor of the change during the meetings about it. And since the clientele at the Toasty Beaver tends to be younger, Hunt thinks they will eventually make the change, but they will not be the first to do it.

While many of the bar owners are worried about the time change, Waldhausen felt people need to realize that “Bemidji is a 24-hour city.” He also did not see any negative impacts this could have in his research.

Bemidji State students also have shown an interest in changing the time. Jessie Villarreal felt that changing the time was a good thing, since every other city is already at that time.

“As an actor,” he said, “getting done at 11 p.m., I want extra time there after shows.”

Other students such as Sam Rendle felt that a one a.m. closing was too early. Hopefully, the town can find a balance between what they want and what customers want.