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1st year of Liquor Depot sees success

Sales pass $1.1 million

WELLS — A relocation and relaunch arrived in time for the Wells Liquor Depot to post its best year in 2020.

Gross liquor sales eclipsed more than $1.1 million through November for the city-run adult beverage business. Annual totals for the prior five years, when the Depot was strictly off-sale, never totaled more than $825,000.

That has local officials excited about 2021 and proud of the work in 2020.

“We had it all in one year,” said Wells City Administrator CJ Holl.

Minnesota cities with a population of fewer than 10,000 can own and operate a municipal liquor store. The Wells shop switched from on- and off-sale liquor in 2014, but it broke even just once since then.

Work on a renovation project that installed a railroad theme to the Depot concluded in February 2020. Covid hit in March 2020. Package sales never waned.

Before February 2020, the store was located at a “tired” downtown location, according to Holl. The new home at the junction of highways 22 and 109 was a formula learned from other Minnesota towns.

“Blue Earth did something similar and saw a dramatic increase, as well,” he said. “There are plenty of examples like that: A, find that location in a busy intersection.”

Gross sales for the year for the Wells Liquor Depot will be more than 35% above 2019’s total.

Holl credits store manager Scott Berg and the Depot staff for adjusting during the pandemic. The store remained open throughout 2020, at times limiting the number of customers, enacting social distancing measures, utilizing PPE and introducing new products to the shelves.

“We were open the whole time,” Holl said. “They managed through a difficult time.”

And they sold gallons of beer, wine and liquor, easily turning around a struggling business.

“Sales cure a lot of ills,” said Holl. “2020 was also a year for us to figure out what our new customer base is like, and what we should stock.”

Of the approximately 190 municipal liquor stores, about 75 have typically eclipsed $1 million in sales. The Wells shop has ranked around 100 in gross sales among all Minnesota municipal liquor stores. The Depot should improve at least 25 spots when the 2020 figures are released later this year.

“We will have reversed the trend and put the store on more solid financial footing for 2020 and beyond,” Holl said.

The renovation included more product lines, floor space and cooler doors, giving locals options they typically had to travel out of town to find.

Additionally, customers appreciate the railroad theme, and the Wells Historical Society – The Depot Museum has donated some historical items.

“Gives it a local flair,” Holl said.

With the end of the pandemic hopefully on the horizon, the Depot is eager for relaxed operating restrictions. And more sales.

“We would like to get back to doing events such as wine and beer tastings,” Holl said. “Also, as people get back to having weddings and events, we hope to enhance our bulk sales.”

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