What’s The Wedge’s real issue with Trader Joe’s?


The Heavy Table posted on Tuesday that there could be a Trader Joe’s going in at 23rd and Lyndale and mentioned this important fact:

There’s a 2000-foot spacing requirement for off-sale liquor licenses due to a state statutory regulation but Trader Joe’s may get an exception. (PDF)

The comments on that item mostly centered around what kind of competition Trader Joe’s would provide for The Wedge Natural Foods Co-op, the whole corporate vs local thing, the issue of what kind of development is useful/appropriate/good for the neighborhood, and how the parking and traffic in that area is already terrible and this will just make it worse. Lots of really good stuff in there. [UPDATED: Uptown Urbanist weighs in on all of those issues.]

The Wedge immediately made a fuss. What became apparent to me over Twitter in the last day or so is that the issue is not TJ’s grocery store, it’s the liquor license. I think we’re all a little salty over Minnesota’s blue laws and the fact that, despite a pretty good lobbying effort, unclenching our collective anus over liquor sales in grocery stores has not been a high priority item in the legislature. It’s understandable to me why The Wedge would be concerned about that.

Fox 9 explains the key difference.

But what makes Trader Joe’s different than all those other stores it that it has a separate entrance, exit and checkout, making it perfectly legal.

Okay, I get all that. Here’s my thing. Justin asks an excellent question:

@The_Wedge Maybe dumb question, but have *you* asked for a variance to sell wine? Seems like TJ’s just had the guts to ask.

To which The Wedge’s designated Tweeter replies:

@justinph Not a dumb question. No, we never have. We didn’t want to step on Humm’s business. But TJ on our doorstep changes everything.

Plus, they said this on facebook:

Trader Joe’s is requesting an unfair advantage over us. They want a state liquor license variance in order to sell wine and beer. Whole Foods tried and didn’t get one back in 1995. Kowalski’s, Lund’s, nor any of the local natural foods co-ops in the city limits have one — so why does Trader Joe’s earn the right?

Whole Foods tried and didn’t get one, so no one else has bothered in the last 15 years?

I get why The Wedge is pissed on principle, but if they never even bothered to ask, or never considered the separate entrance part they really ought to pipe down. They’re obviously itchin’ for a fight with language like “TJ on our doorstep changes everything” and “Locals against the Big Dogs.” (BTW, they’re working with Humm’s? To do what, exactly? Just to kill the TJ’s project? I tweeted asking and will update if I get an answer.)

This Heavy Table commenter speaks well to that point.

The problem is the law in Minneapolis has strict geographical separation of liquor license provision. I believe it’s one mile as the crow flies from property line to property line. Notice no competition for Henn Lake anywhere else in Uptown (Phil Colich is mafia like in his protection of his business). So what Trader Joe’s is trying to do is get a variance, and therefore the Wedge rightfully is wondering about their possibility as well. Uptown Urbanist is right … Hum’s has the license to begin with, so they should be mad as hell.

So in that sense, yes, Humm’s should be pissed. But what about this part? Correct me if I’m wrong, but the typical Humm’s customer is totally not the kind of person that frequents The Wedge. If I were Humm’s, I guess I’d be more concerned about Two (or Three) Buck Chuck than whatever organic wine The Wedge is gonna have.

The Wedge posted this on facebook as part of an update on the situation.

On April 10, the city council approved support (7-6 in favor) for a house bill allowing a special liquor license for 2309 Lyndale Avenue S., the proposed site for a new Trader Joe’s, a block south of the Wedge Co-op.

Now the bill goes to the Minnesota State Legislature, where, unfortunately, the Wedge’s voice will be muted by State influences and priorities. If the measure passes, that won’t be the end, though. The proposal will then come back to the City for public input, further consideration, and a final vote.

Emphasis mine. I’d like to know a little more about that particular statement. Plus, if that’s the legislative path to make this happen, I don’t really see it happening. If the end result is that all grocery stores qualify for liquor licenses, that’s cool (though there’s still the matter of that 2,000-foot proximity issue). I’m down with that.

I just think The Wedge should be more careful/clear how they articulate their complaint. They’re coming off as whiney babies. Use the specific case of TJ’s as a supporting argument for resurrecting the larger issue of the proximity restriction or of grocery store liquor licenses. Don’t just stamp your foot and yell, “It’s not fair!”

Ya think? What am I missing?