Council to consider extending time minors can be in Little Falls bars with family

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor

An ordinance was introduced by the Little Falls City Council that would allow minors to be in a bar until 9 p.m., if accompanied by their parent or guardian.

Currently, the city’s ordinance states minors must be out of a bar by 7 p.m., regardless of who they are with.

Police Chief Greg Schirmers told the Council he has heard concerns from local bar owners and staff for a number of years.

Their concern, he said, is that the 7 p.m. time in the ordinance (3.75B) restricting those under the age of 21, can be prohibitive for food sales in establishments.

Schirmers said at a police department (PD) meeting, officers discussed how moving the restriction to a later time would affect enforcement and problems in bars.

“Currently, we have no issues,” he said. “We have a good relationship with all management and owners in establishments and the PD would not be opposed to change if the Council so decides.”

City Administrator Dan Vogt said he had prepared an ordinance with a 9 p.m.  deadline.

“Normally you can make an ordinance less restrictive rather than more restrictive, so if you want to make it 8 p.m. or leave it at 7 p.m., that’s up to you,” he said. “The chief expressed a concern and I prepared an ordinance if you’re interested in adopting it.”

Council Member At Large Brian-Paul Crowder asked whether Schirmers had spoken with every bar.

Schirmers said he had not, but over the course of years, had the discussion with several area bars and employees. “We don’t see a problem in the PD,” he said. “We don’t have issues with minors in the bar or violations of the law concerning minor activity in the bars, so we’re just not opposed to a change if the Council so desires to change.”

Crowder said the same issue had come before the Council six years earlier.

“We just decided that 7 p.m. would satisfy,” he said. “I just have a concern with young people being in a bar anyway.” He noted the bar that had an issue six years ago was now out of business and that restaurants were available for eating.

Council Member Greg Zylka said he had a discussion with the chief a couple of years ago. His brother, Doug, and wife, Wendy, own the Red Bull Bar in Little Falls. Zylka consults with them on the business side of the endeavor.

“I’m sure it will come out somewhere that this it the reason I got on City Council, but I hope you all understand that is not true,” said Zylka.

His concern, Zylka said, was turning away people from other communities who had come to Little Falls for an activity, like a hockey tournament. Families had been turned away who had come in at 6:30 p.m., “a reasonable time to expect to eat dinner,” he said.

“If we’re willing to collect taxes on food sales from these establishments for the city of Little Falls, why would we not want to give them the opportunity to gain these sales,” he said.

Zylka said establishments were not looking to allow children to come into a bar alone. “We’re not encouraging children; we’re encouraging families,” he said.

“Why would we send them to Royalton or north because we think somebody might be offended or start kids drinking,” he said. “That’s not anybody’s plan in any business in Little Falls. We’re just asking for a chance to do business.”

Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem said she hadn’t agreed with the Council six years ago and said parents need to be trusted. “They take care of their kids every day of the week, every minute of the day. I don’t believe they get ‘stupid’ when they go to the bar,” she said.

She named a list of different family restaurants that served alcohol. “They want to get some food and they walk in there at 6 p.m. and we have to boot them out if they’re not done by 7 p.m. … I’d like to see this pass for our local businesses,” she said.

Council Member Jeremy Hanfler said at a wedding reception in the upstairs of the Red Bull families with kids had to go at 7 p.m. He noted families could sit at the Ballroom all night.

Zylka also asked for clarification as to whether those, such as Guardsmen, age 18 – 20, needed to be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“Are they not legal to where they don’t need a guardian?” he asked. “If we have five Guardsmen come in and one of them is 19, we refuse service to all of them, because our understanding was they had to have a guardian, which to me is ludicrous, that they can go and serve our country but can’t sit with four friends and eat and drink pop.”

Schirmers said he understood the intent was for those under 18. At 18, he said, people don’t have a guardian, but will clarify the issue with the city attorney.

The Council will discuss the ordinance change and vote at its March 18 meeting.