Crow Wing County Board allows sale of beer year-round at fairgrounds
The Crow Wing County Fair will offer beer for consumption, but the about-face on the county's long-standing prohibition of alcohol sales did not make it an easy decision to swallow for some.
The Crow Wing County Board of Commissioners approved at its Tuesday, May 28, meeting renewing the license application by the fair association to sell 3.2% beer—even at the fair.
"The consent of the town (board) of Oak Lawn was to issue the license for the full 52 weeks of the year with the stipulation that the specifications presented by the beer committee proposal are followed," County Administrator Tim Houle said.
The first "annual fair" was in Brainerd on Oct. 5, 1872, and was periodically in Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Crosby before settling in Lum Park in Brainerd in 1937 and later moving to land along 13th Street in Crow Wing Township in 1962.
"The county board has historically approved the liquor license but excluded the week of the fair," Houle said.
Pat Bluth, a Nisswa resident and Mothers Against Drunk Driving volunteer, shared with the board that her 17-year-old daughter was killed by a drunk driver on the night of Sept. 13, 1985.
"It only takes one to cause a crash that could result in injury or death to someone," Bluth told the commissioners. "The Crow Wing County Fair has been successful for many, many years without beer sales, so why change something that is already working?"
The county fair is one of the top five largest fairs in the state, according to its organizers, and began as an agricultural event where residents could exhibit products and livestock.
"It can only take one person leaving the beer garden at the county fair that could cause a crash and injure or kill someone because of their drinking too much. Do you want that on your conscience?" Bluth asked the board.
Fair President Sharon Ryappy told the commissioners, "I would like to separate the business prospect from personal feelings. ... This is totally a business proposition, so please consider it as such."
According to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving, there were 93 people who died in Minnesota in 2016 because of drunk driving.
"How would the fair be improved and made better by having a beer garden?" Bluth asked. "The only benefit to having a beer garden at the fair is to make money. The negatives could far outweigh the financial gains that may be made."
Drunken driving is the No. 1 cause of death on U.S. roads, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, with someone killed every 51 minutes.
"As families plan to attend the fair in August, let's hope that drinking beer won't be available on the fairgrounds. Having beer would take away the fun family-oriented environment that has been a part of this fair," Bluth said.
The board voted last year to restrict beer sales during the fair—keeping it one of the last dry fairs in the state—and for the fourth time in four years the county board rejected the fair board's plea to permit the sale of 3.2 percent beer on fairgrounds during the week of the county fair.
"I really, truly feel the residents of Crow Wing County should have the opportunity to prove that they are as much as responsible as the surrounding counties," Ryappy said.
"We also have a law enforcement officer on our fair board who will be actually coordinating the security measures for the fair. We also have Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department on the fairgrounds 24 hours a day for the whole five days of the fair."
Fairgrounds General Manager Gary Doucette did not speak at Tuesday's meeting but had said the fair board struggled with earning revenue to cover operational costs and that potentially $100,000 in gross revenue could be generated from a beer garden based on other county fairs.
"We're going to be charging enough that people are not going to sit and drink drink after drink after drink," Ryappy said.
Beer would be sold at two locations at the fairgrounds—the free stage from 1-9 p.m. and the grandstand from 5-9 p.m., according to beer committee officials.
"In recent years, we've partnered with Central Lakes College; we've used second-year law enforcement students to help with our security, and we will attempt to do that again," Ryappy said.
The fair board would partner with veterans organizations to serve the beers and share revenues, according to Ryappy.
"They have experience in sales and service of alcohol," Ryappy told the board.
Sheriff Scott Goddard said he was concerned about the volume of traffic—pedestrian and motor vehicle—in front of the fairgrounds and how that might be impacted by those who are impaired.
"Have we had problems in the past out there of people drinking? Absolutely. Have we dealt with them? Absolutely," Goddard said.
Commissioner Rosemary Franzen said of the fair board's request, "My opinion hasn't changed since last year. I'll be voting against this. I don't think it's necessary. I think it's a family fair ... so I just don't understand it all."
Commissioner Paul Koering then called for a roll call vote. Commissioners Bill Brekken, Doug Houge, Steve Barrows and Koering voted to approve beer sales on the fairgrounds for the fair.
"Currently, alcohol is legal in the state of Minnesota, so that is a consideration that we have to look at," Barrows said. "Alcohol is available out there, regardless of what any of us might think. Just because we don't sell it in one spot doesn't mean it isn't available right next door to that spot."