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Sales of spirits on the rise
May 22, 2020

Mark Mitten
Correspondent

HOWARD LAKE, MN – Year-to-date sales at Howard Lake Wine and Spirits are significantly higher than previous years.

The Howard Lake City Council met in an online video conference May 19, and listened to a financial presentation from Jason Swanson, liquor operations manager of Buffalo Wine and Spirits; and Howard Lake Wine and Spirits general manager Myra Laway.

“It’s been a really good year so far,” Swanson said, citing the effects of COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions. “It was like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years Eve, one day after the other, for weeks on end. Right now, we are sitting at sales being up 40 percent versus 2019. Where they’re going to go, I don’t know. We’re not even halfway through the year and our busiest days are yet to come.”

Mayor Pete Zimmerman inquired about the personal reactions of store staff, as liquor stores were deemed essential businesses by Governor Tim Walz.

“How is the staff doing?” he asked Laway. “Considering they have a lot of customer contact and handle money. Were they feeling nervous?”

Laway acknowledged that two staff members initially took a leave of absence, in the early stages of the pandemic, out of personal health concerns.

“The sneeze guards help tremendously, and getting the personal protective equipment, the gloves and face masks [help],” Laway said. “Customers appreciate it, as well.”

She explained how the liquor store has been offering, in addition to in-store sales and free curbside pickup, home delivery services for a $10 fee.

The council approved a memorandum of understanding between the city of Howard Lake and Swanson, who will provide liquor enterprise consulting services for Howard Lake Wine & Spirits. Swanson will be compensated $700 per month.

City Administrator Nick Haggenmiller presented a resolution, which the council approved, extending the local emergency declaration to Monday, June 1.

He noted that city hall will reopen immediately, along with the community room and event center, although current social distancing guidelines will be maintained, and no more than 10 people will be allowed inside at one time.

Haggenmiller added that parks are also open, although the Summer Recreation Program (REACH) has been cancelled for the year.

City Administrator Assistant Meagan Donahue said that, so far, the city has paid $8,000 in overtime and hazard pay to liquor store, police department, and fire department staff. Donahue said she expected hazard pay to extend through June 1.

Odds and ends

In other business, the council:

• approved plans and authorized the advertisement of contractor bids for Central Park Phase 1. At this point, the council has not made a decision regarding key elements, such as whether or not to include a library at the park site, or focus on improving the current library.

• heard two landscaping options for historic city hall with cost estimates. Haggenmiller said he will seek out project bids from contractors and return with pricing for the council to consider.

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