Booze isn’t a cure for what ails small-town Minnesota

Running a liquor store in rural Minnesota seems like a great way to lose money, especially if it’s the town running the store.

The Minnesota State Auditor has found net profits for municipal liquor stores dropped nearly 9 percent in 2015 compared to the year before, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports.

It’s not that rural Minnesota has become a bastion of teetotalers; the stores have had record sales. But all 34 municipal liquor stores that lost money in 2015 were located in rural Minnesota.

One exception, the Post Bulletin says, is Mazeppa, where the town of 800 turned its liquor store fortunes around. Why?

The liquor store’s manager Heather Groby said the business is on track to do even better in 2016. So why the big turnaround?

Groby, who became manager one year ago, said there has been a big push to change the way business is done to help the small town “muni” better compete in today’s crowded liquor marketplace.

“I’m kind of a determined individual, and I love a challenge,” she said. “I grew up on a dairy farm so I’m a rural, country, small-town girl. I don’t want to see these towns going to ghost towns. We need revenue in these communities.”

More food, a patio with heaters, lowering prices, and sprucing up the joint helped.

Can’t every town do that?

The Post Bulletin went to West Concord, which, at $25,000, lost the third-highest amount in the state. It fired its store manager and put the city administrator in charge of things.

He wouldn’t talk to the newspaper, however.

Want to buy a liquore store? City Council member Ryan Fay says the town should sell it.

“It would keep a bar in town for people because they like having it. People don’t want it to be gone, but people don’t want to spend a ton of their tax dollars to keep it open,” he says.

And industry representative says many grocery stores are opening their own liquor departments.

But there’s another reason why it’s a struggle. Rural towns are dying off in Minnesota and even booze can’t stop it.