Inevitably Fargo finds itself at the top of every “Drunkest Cities in America” list. The headlines get us national attention, but there’s little notice paid to how to clean up our act. Instead, we perpetuate the problem by handing out liquor licenses like candy at a parade – indiscriminately and abundantly.
To add to the hangover, when it comes to oversight of liquor licenses, there’s next to none. According to Fargo Municipal Code, liquor-licensed establishments must meet alcohol server training requirements and pass four compliance checks annually. In 2018, only 49% of establishments met server training requirements, and only 48% received a single compliance check (of which 17% failed). The mounting number of liquor licenses, inconsistent oversight, and no repercussions for noncompliant establishments has lead to a troublesome scenario. A trip downtown on a weekend night makes it glaringly evident that our community is rampantly over-served. By failing to take action, our city leaders are enabling over-consumption, underage drinking, and the consequences associated with both.
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There are several immediate steps to take if we wish to sober up. To begin, without enough police resources to carry out the required compliance checks at every establishment, the city should prioritize by focusing on establishments that wave the biggest red flags. Those with the most calls for service deserve the greatest scrutiny. There’s no incentive for an establishment to clean up its act when there’s no oversight. Regulations outlined in the Municipal Code must be adhered and a penalty matrix for non-compliant establishments must be enforced.
The city should also prohibit the sale of single serving liquor options at downtown off-sale locations. I commend Nikki Ness of Bernie’s Liquors for her leadership in this effort. Her decision shows a concern for the long-term health of our community rather than an immediate transactional return. The city should show its commitment to Fargo’s future and to creating a more responsible drinking culture by requiring that downtown off-sale establishments follow her lead.
Finally, when issuing new liquor licenses, the city should be mindful of the business model of the establishment, the impact the license will have on its environment, the type of liquor license being sought, and the density of liquor licenses already in proximity to the proposed license.
As Fargo continues to grow, it’s important that we take action before the troubles we’re seeing intensify. Though over-consumption and lack of oversight are persistent problems throughout our city, corrective action will have the most noticeable and immediate impact on our downtown core where liquor licenses are most prolific. A safer, more welcoming downtown will positively impact the economic health of our entire city.
It’s time those in leadership positions stop willfully fueling Fargo’s drinking culture. It’s not asking too much to demand corrective course be taken at establishments who are serial offenders of non-compliance and excessive calls for service. They need to shape up or shut down. With greater discretion to licensing and stricter oversight enforced, we can become a safer, less intoxicated community and Fargo can be recognized as a model of excellence rather than drunkenness.