Target Store Selling Alcohol without Required Local Permit – and the City Says That’s OK

Thursday, August 1, 2019, 4:42 pm
By: 
Alice Dreger

Walk into East Lansing’s just-opened Target store downtown and you’ll find rows of beer, wine, and liquor for sale.

But Target doesn’t yet have the required local permit to be selling alcohol. Its application to the City of East Lansing for that permit won’t see a vote by Council for at least another six weeks.

So what’s going on?

By way of background, to sell alcohol in East Lansing, a business needs not just a state liquor license but also a Special Use Permit (SUP).

The SUP application has to go through review by the Planning Commission and approval by City Council, a process that typically takes two to three months or even more, partly because of the need to let the public know along the way that a new SUP is being considered.

Target has just put in an application for the SUP to sell alcohol. That application is due to come to Planning Commission for a public hearing at the next meeting, on August 14, and that's just the start of the process.

Asked if Target is in violation of City law by selling alcohol now, East Lansing Planning & Zoning Administrator David Haywood responded, “Technically yes. However, our practice has been that if a business has a state liquor license in good standing and has submitted an SUP application, we stay any enforcement action until final action on the SUP.”

Haywood confirmed that Target has the state-level licenses.

We contacted Target to ask why they were selling alcohol before obtaining the local permit.

Liz Hancock from Target’s communications department responded, "There are a number of steps we take in opening a new store. While I don't having specific timing details to share, I can tell you that we are excited to serve the East Lansing community with an easy, inspiring shopping experience."

The other new businesses moving into the new Center City District redevelopment – including Barrio Tacos and Jolly Pumpkin – have been working on getting their East Lansing permits approved before they open for business.

City Council has been steadily approving all alcohol permit requests

There was a time when a lot of scrutiny was given by City Council members to requests for more liquor-selling SUPs downtown.

Back in 2015, for example, Council member Ruth Beier expressed concern about an “undue concentration” of downtown bars when the owners of the Tin Can came to town looking to open a location here.

But since then, Council has taken a much more laissez-faire approach to the selling of alcohol, including by eliminating a controversial law known as “50/50”. That law required East Lansing bars and restaurants to offer enough food and non-alcoholic beverages to obtain at least half of their profits from something other than alcohol.

Today, alcohol-selling requests typically sail right through … after crawling through the public noticing process.

At the June 18 meeting of Council, with virtually no discussion, members of Council voted unanimously to grant various alcohol-selling permits to Barrio Tacos (set to move into the new retail space along Albert Avenue), an expansion of SideBar (on Saginaw Street), the new SpringHill Suites hotel (on Trowbridge Road), and Baps Korean Restaurant (on Albert Avenue, just east of CVS).

No one from the public came to speak for or against any of these permits.

With the Downtown Development Authority, Planning Commission, and City Council consistently and unanimously giving the thumbs-up to all alcohol-selling requests of late, and with the public silent on the issue, it seems unlikely Target will run into a denial.

But the new store could dampen the market for other nearby stores selling alcohol, including Spartan Spirits, CVS, and Jonna’s 2 Go, the last of which advertises itself as the “home of keg beer specials.”

Northern United Brewing Company has put in for its alcohol-selling SUP “to establish a brewery, winery, distillery and artisan pizza restaurant and bar” at 218 Albert Avenue. That’s for the new East Lansing Jolly Pumpkin, just west of Pinball Pete’s. That request will come to a public hearing at Planning Commission on August 14, the same date as Target’s request.

 

Want to weigh in? You can write to City Council at council@cityofeastlansing.com and to the Planning Commission via David Haywood’s email.

Note: We corrected this article after publication to note that the application from Northern United Brewing Company is for Jolly Pumpkin.

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