City approves new liquor law for bowling alleys

An ordinance amendment changes the food-to-liquor sales ratio required of some bowling centers

No one cheers for a split in bowling.

Whether it’s a 7/10 pin divide or a 60/40 percent food-to-liquor sales ratio, a split can lead straight to the gutter.

For Bryant-Lake Bowl owner Kim
Bartmann, who just missed her food sales requirement in 2006 and has seen sales slip in recent years, the city’s 60/40 requirement has been a burden.

“Bowling is a form of entertainment and often people come and go bowling without eating,” Bartmann said. “And what the 60/40 does is it forces me to keep my liquor prices low and my food prices high, which I think achieves the opposite of what the law is intended to do.”

A new ordinance amendment will help alleviate the pressure on Bartmann to rake in food revenue. The City Council approved making the food-to-liquor split 50/50 for some bowling alleys on Feb. 15.

The change applies to bowling centers (defined as being managed by a single proprietor and having at least eight lanes) that are required to have a food-to-liquor ratio because of their close proximity to residential areas. Of Minneapolis’ six alleys, Bryant-Lake bowl is the only one that will immediately benefit from the new rule.

Nokomis Lanes at 4040 Bloomington Ave. S. also has a 60/40 split, but the restriction is tied to its wine license, according to a report from the city’s Licenses and Consumer Services division. The center would qualify for the 50/50 ratio if it upgraded to a full liquor license, the report states.

Skylane bowling at 5019 34th Ave. S., which does not have to abide by the 60/40 rule because of its license type, could also go to 50-50 if it upgraded to a full liquor

The ordinance change doesn’t affect any of the city’s other seven bowling centers.

City Council Member Gary Schiff (9th Ward) authored the amendment. He said it “evens the playing field” for bowling alleys in the city, particularly Bartmann’s.

“She had the most restrictive rules because of an incomprehensible maze of regulations,” Schiff said.

He said the ratio issue came up last year when he met with the city’s bowling center owners over concerns about an annual entertainment tax. The city hauls in $75,000 each year from bowling alleys because of the tax, roughly enough to pay the salary of one police officer, Schiff said.

The city didn’t want to get rid of the tax but was willing to tweak the liquor regulations to make sure all the alleys were on similar ground.

At least two other large U.S. cities — St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo. — have 50/50 food-to-liquor sales ratios for bowling alleys, according to the Licenses and Consumer Services division report. Others, including Buffalo, N.Y., Omaha, Neb. and Tulsa, Okla. have no requirement.

City Council Member Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said the city’s liquor laws should be discussed beyond bowling alleys. “A lot of these laws haven’t changed since prohibition,” Remington said.

He said the new regulations for bowling alleys should help small operations such as Bryant-Lake Bowl, but he worried about the new rule setting a precedent for other area establishments that might also have an argument for breaking the 60/40 rule.

Remington said one could argue that the lanes at Bryant-Lake Bowl aren’t the business’ main draw and it compares more to nearby bars and restaurants that still have to meet the old rule.

Bartman said more than 10 percent of her revenue comes from bowling. Most customers go to Bryant-Lake Bowl for a little of everything, she said.

The CARAG neighborhood group’s Zoning Committee discussed the ordinance change before the city voted on it but did not make a recommendation. Aaron Rubenstein, chairman of the committee, said some residents had concerns similar to Remington’s, but most were not concerned about the change.

Rubenstein said the new split would probably not be felt in the neighborhood.

“People think it’s a good business and we want to support it,” he said.

Bartmann, who has a short-term lease on the Bryant-Lake Bowl building, said getting by would still be tough during the next year as Lake Street reconstruction continues. But she said the new split will make it easier to compete with other bowling alleys.

“I’m hoping I’m going to do well and the neighborhood will be supportive,” she said.


Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]