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Objections over new liquor store lead to legal action

Mary Wallace insists it's not personal.

"That was one of the reasons I moved here," Wallace said of her Liquor Depot store at 830 Rivard, "there wasn't a license to be issued so I felt I had time for my customers to get used to this new location."

Wallace had filed a temporary injunction against the Apple River Liquor store owned by John Montpetit, also naming the Village of Somerset in the case.

She maintains that the liquor license extension the Village granted Montpetit to open the new liquor store on Main Street was not legal.

"The competition has five locations under one license," Wallace said. "Then the Board had a special meeting, just to rush this through to get it ready for the (Country Splash) concert."

The issue was first discussed at the April Board meeting. Montpetit had asked to have a beer garden and VIP tent set up during the concert. He also planned to open the year-round Apple River Liquor Store at 520 Main Street.

Since the Village has no liquor licenses available (state statutes only allow one license per 1,500 residents; the Village currently has five "grandfather-ed" licenses), Montpetit asked to have his current license cover the new ventures.

The Village retained Catherine Munkittrick, of Rodli, Beskar, Boles & Krueger law firm in River Falls to help with the issue. During the May Board meeting, she said the Board's decision would establish a precedent.

"If the property is unified and under single control, it's the Village's prerogative to amend the permit," Munkittrick said at the meeting. "But they have to make sure all separate parcels are adequately controlled; this is a new issue for the Village Board."

It was at the May meeting that some opposing views were expressed. Two citizens had questioned whether this was good for the community, as well as the legality of the extension.

"I could not find one person who was in favor of this," one resident said at that time, "I don't know how these two different properties can be unified - there is a sign there now that says 'Apple River Liquor Store,' how is that unified?"

The Village Board decided to table the issue pending more details from Montpetit. As the regular meeting would fall after the concert weekend, the Board scheduled a special meeting on June 9 after the regular Planning Commission meeting.

At the June 9 meeting, attorney Craig Peterson addressed the Board on behalf of Liquor Depot owners Mark Vanasse and Mary (Vanasse) Wallace. He suggested that the Village was using an irrelevant attorney general opinion as a reference.

"It's from 1948 and it dealt with a resort that had a road running through it," Peterson explained. "They said they could operate under one organization, but we are dealing with a campground, concert site and liquor store - very different.

"Going from a seasonal three-month concert site and campground to a year-round liquor store is quite a jump," Peterson concluded.

Jeff Johnson, Village president, defended the Board's decision to approve the extension.

"The applicant has control over the adjacent properties; these are satellite sites that are seasonal," Johnson said. "In my opinion, we are not creating an additional license, it was a 12-month license already."

The Apple River Liquor Store opened its doors in time for the Country Splash concert weekend on June 19-21.

It was around that time that Wallace filed her request for a temporary injunction.

Until this spring, the Liquor Depot had occupied 350 Main Street for 25 years. Now it operates in its new building in the River Hills Commons development by the highway.

"When Somerset became an exit, I lost a lot of business," Wallace said. She said she asked the Village about operating the Liquor Depot in two locations.

"They said there was not another license available," Wallace said.

At the July 1 hearing at the St. Croix County Courthouse, Judge Scott Needham denied her request for a temporary injunction. As a compromise, he moved the hearing date up to July 17 at 10:30 a.m.

"It's like hitting a 17 Black on the roulette wheel - a long shot," Matthew Cornetta, attorney with RuderWare in Eau Claire, said about getting a temporary injunction. Cornetta represented the Vanasses at the July 1 hearing.

Cornetta said getting the trial date within the month was a smart move on the judge's part.

"It was an excellent decision," Cornetta said. "Shutting down someone's business . . . that's hard for a judge. He understands the time-sensitivity nature of this (liquor store) business."

All three parties will submit briefs to the judge by July 11: Cornetta for Vanasse and Wallace, Attorney Ryan Steffes for the Village of Somerset and Attorney Mark Gherty for Float-Rite/John Montpetit. The July 17 trial will feature arguments from all parties, testimony, evidence and any witnesses they wish to call. There will not be a jury, so the judge is expected to make a decision that day.

"It's not like this is a huge, complex case," Cornetta said. "Plus the judge will have the benefit of the briefs."

Wallace reiterated that this was not a "family feud," just that she wanted everything to be legal.

"I'm all for fair competition, but this is not that."

The News attempted to contact John Montpetit, but he was unavailable for comment.