MOORHEAD - The city recently shut down the "paint and sip" portion of a business at the Moorhead Center Mall, several months after giving it the green light, according to the owner.
Elected leaders and business advocates have urged city staff to work with Shanna Cramer, the owner of Creatively Uncorked, to make sure her business stays in Moorhead.
The city manager says city staff did nothing wrong.
As part of its business, Creatively Uncorked organizes parties where guests can create paintings while drinking wine. Cramer started it two years ago as a mobile business before renting a space at the Moorhead Center Mall last February with the intention of hosting parties there.
She planned on using a cash bar for public events and allowing customers to bring their own alcoholic beverages for private events. She said Jill Wenger, the acting city clerk at the time, told her the "BYOB" arrangement would be fine.
Then in October, City Clerk Michelle French visited the business and told Cramer the BYOB arrangement was illegal and proper paperwork was not filed for the cash bar, Cramer said.
Cramer also claims that French told her she could host one last BYOB party. That struck Cramer as wrong because "it's either illegal or it's not," she said.
Business retention is a key goal for the city of Moorhead, which just hired a new economic development director. The Moorhead Center Mall has historically struggled to retain tenants.
Melissa Rademacher, the Moorhead Center Mall general manager, and Jim Steen, a board member of the city's Economic Development Authority, attended a City Council meeting Jan. 11 to support Cramer.
"I'm here to support, obviously, Shanna in providing an amazing business for the mall," Rademacher said. "That's why I am running the mall, because I believe in it, and we need more and more of these businesses."
Steen criticized the city staff's "customer service" skills.
"We can't just tell a person, 'Oh, you can't do this,' without giving some options," he told the City Council.
Councilman Steve Gehrtz took issue with city staff giving conflicting information to a business owner.
"I think it's important as a city when we make a commitment to a business owner that they can operate their business that way, that we live by our word," he said at the meeting.
City Manager Michael Redlinger wrote in a report to council on Jan. 23 that city staff never said Creatively Uncorked's parties could be BYOB.
And when the city clerk visited Cramer in October, Cramer was never told that she could stay open for one last BYOB party, Redlinger wrote.
Cramer and city staff have been meeting to find ways to allow the business to keep doing "paint and sip." One option is to classify Creatively Uncorked as a restaurant.
"I'm feeling very positive," Cramer said. "I'm very excited to be able to work this out."
She added: "I believe it was a misunderstanding. I'm not blaming Jill (Wenger). She was really nice, great to work with." However, she said she was disappointed in Redlinger's report.
Cramer emphasized that the business is still open. It just can't allow liquor in its space at the mall.
City Councilman Mike Hulett said the report vindicated city staff's contention that Creatively Uncorked could stay open for one last BYOB party.
"This has been investigated and proven to be untrue," he said at Monday's council meeting.
After the meeting, Hulett ran into Steen, the business leader, who asked Hulett to talk with Cramer.
"Why don't you get more sides of the story?" Steen asked Hulett. "Just take 10 minutes to go talk to her, get her side of the story before accusing her of being a liar."
As of Thursday, Cramer and Hulett had not met.