Liquor expert says Tracy store will need unified effort by City Council

Photo by Jody Isaackson Minnesota Liquor and Beverage Association Director Paul Kaspszak speaks to the Tracy City Council about the suggestions presented to the Tracy Municipal Liquor Store manager Sandy Lau to help improve business.

TRACY — Saving the struggling municipal liquor store will require an unified effort by the Tracy City Council, according to the director of the Minnesota Liquor and Beverage Association.

Paul Kaspszak didn’t mince words when he spoke to the Tracy City Council Monday evening.

“The fact of the matter is, you really hadn’t tried anything,” Kaspszak told the council. He listed all the ideas he and Nanette Serbus, of the Olivia Liquor Store, offered to improve sales.

But Kaspszak said the council did not seem unified on saving the liquor store.

“There didn’t seem to be a unified effort to understand that the old way was wrong, it wasn’t working and needs to be changed,” he said. “That’s what it’s going to take to make money to benefit the community going forward.”

Kaspszak listed reasons why people get out of the liquor store business:

• The town is evaporating — not so in Tracy’s case

• A small percentage go out of business because of a political agenda of setting too high of income expectations

• Not improving business practices such as updating point of sales equipment

Kaspszak gave an example of a store manager in another city who didn’t want to change with the times. That city finally fired the manager (which is not the case in Tracy).

“I’m not here to get anyone run off,” Kaspszak said. He said he was just doing his best to help save the liquor store.

Kaspszak said getting out of the on-sale business was one thing Tracy did right. Beyond that, Tracy was like New York City in population compared to some of the towns he had helped get back on track with ideas like wine tasting parties and craft beer events.

“There is no reason that an off-sale liquor store cannot make it in a city this size,” he said. “You cannot expect to compete with Marshall. You are a convenience store, and you have to mark up your inventory accordingly.”

Kaspszak ran down the other ideas he and Serbus had been sharing with Tracy Liquor Store manager Sandy Lau. The store recently hosted a wine tasting party at the The Caboose. But there was a conflict with the date as there was a choir concert that night, resulting in 10 guests in attendance. However, one-and-a-half cases of wine were sold, Kaspszak said. They were primarily sweet wines.

Going forward the dates would be more fully scrutinized, but overall, still not a bad start, he said.

“That’s one-and-a-half cases that wouldn’t have been sold if the event hadn’t been held,” he said.

The liquor store was also planning a craft beer tasting event at Bonnie & Clyde’s supper club on main street, Rosemary Martin reported. She is a member of the Tracy Liquor Committee and has been working closely with Lau on the wine tasting event.

Kaspszak said he had given Martin a winery closer to home to work with than the St. Michelle Winery, Washington, who conducted the first wine tasting event. Crow River Winery is just east of Hutchinson, he said.

Martin added that the liquor store would be working with Brau Brothers of Marshall for the upcoming craft beer event.

Serbus had also helped Lau with an inventory and report system that will aid in giving monthly reports to the council.

The trigger for the discussion on closing the liquor store was that the liquor store had lost money at least two of the last three years and the statutes require the question of selling it.

“In my opinion, we shouldn’t do anything without taking a couple of months to see how these ideas will work,” Mayor Pam Cooreman said.

Councilman Tony Peterson agreed.

“In my opinion, we should see over the next six months if we can turn it around,” he said. “No one else could get up and running in that time. I don’t see any reason to rush into locking it up. I’m firmly committed to see what’s happening and hopefully it gets better.”

Even City Attorney Matthew Gross said that it was the council’s prerogative to wait until closer to the general election in November to make the decision.

“You have until the end of August,” Gross said. “That would be when a resolution for a vote needs to be done.”