Alexandria City Council cracks down on King Tobacco's licenses
The city denied a license for one of the stores for a year and suspended the license of another for 3 months.
ALEXANDRIA, MN — King Tobacco won’t be selling tobacco products at its two locations in Alexandria for a while.
At its Jan. 23 meeting, the Alexandria City Council upheld its earlier decision to not renew the license for the store at 4617 Highway 29 South for 2023 and fined the store $250, the heaviest fine it can issue under the city's ordinances.
The council also suspended the license of the King Tobacco at 307 North Nokomis for three months and ordered it to also pay a $250 fine.
The vote was 3-2 with Andrew Wiener, Roger Thalman and Nicole Mace voting for it and Scott Allen and Bill Franzen voting against it because they felt the penalties did not go far enough. Right before that vote, Allen and Franzen made a motion to deny 2023 licenses at both stores but the motion failed.
Back on Dec. 12, the Alexandria City Council denied the company’s application to renew its tobacco licenses, noting that the south store had failed five compliance checks dating back to 2015 by selling tobacco to minors.
King Tobacco appealed the city’s action and presented its case at the Jan. 23 council meeting. Its attorney, Marc Sugden with Pemberton Law, told the council King Tobacco is “fully committed” to resolving the issues related to the failed compliance checks and asked the city to reconsider its decision.
Sugden provided several reasons:
- King Tobacco identified the employee who consistently struggled or outright failed to check for identification and that employee is no longer with King Tobacco.
- King Tobacco has developed new protocols, procedures and training documentation for all its employees.
- Moving forward, all employees, managers and owners will review a webinar, “Tips for Retailers: Preventing Sales to Persons under 21 Years of Age,” at least once a year.
- King Tobacco has purchased software that will indicate if a customer may purchase tobacco products.
- Digital calendars will be installed to help determine if a customer is old enough to purchase tobacco products.
- King Tobacco will post “21 or Older” signs on or near entrances. Signs will also be posted at the cash registers noting that if a customer appears to be 27 years old or younger, they’ll be required to present ID.
- Employees will be informed that the company has “zero tolerance” for any employee who fails to abide by the ID requirements.
- King Tobacco will offer a bonus policy to reward employees who pass compliance checks.
- Owners and store managers will administer employee training and distribute training materials to prevent under-age sales at least once a quarter.
- King Tobacco will engage with local law enforcement regularly to discuss preventing illegal sales.
Sugden added that King Tobacco has decided to withdraw its license application to sell THC products in Alexandria.
“Rather than seeking that license, my clients will instead focus on perfecting the processes and procedures associated with tobacco sales to ensure that the issues experienced over the past five years do not happen again,” Sugden wrote in a letter to the city.
Sugden added that only the location at 4617 State Highway 29 South has experienced compliance issues.
“Their north location has been operated for years without issue and my clients are in the midst of constructing a new building adjacent to Starbucks on the south side of town,” Sugden said in his letter. “They are good people, they are committed to Alexandria and they wish to do right by this community.”
Sugden told the council that his clients felt a deep sense of guilt, regret and embarrassment when the south store failed compliance checks. He added that his clients were "humbly requesting" a temporary suspension of their licenses.
The council asked Police Chief Scott Kent if King Tobacco was selling tobacco and THC products without a license after Dec. 31. Kent said officers checked on Jan. 4 and the south store was not only selling tobacco but also a THC product, Delta 9, in portions greater than 5 mg, which is illegal in Minnesota. Kent added that when the store was told about that, it quickly complied with the law.
Council member Thalman said that the one clerk who was repeatedly caught selling tobacco to under-aged customers indicated a "cultural issue" for the company, not just an employee issue.
A manager for the stores, and brother of the owner, acknowledged that King Tobacco had made mistakes but were making changes. "Moving forward, we're asking you to give us a chance to prove it," he told the council.
Council member Wiener said the decision was difficult. Although the store blatantly violated the law, he questioned whether the punishment fit the crime.
"Taking away their license is a proverbial death sentence for this company," Wiener said. "There may be other ways of handling this....Real people are involved here."
The issue may not be over yet. King Tobacco has the option to take the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which could take months to resolve, according to City Attorney Tom Jacobson.
Following are other items from the Jan. 23 meeting not included in other council coverage.
Three mobile food trucks get licenses
The council issued three mobile food truck licenses to:
- Flavor Shack, LLC, owned by Constance Levin of Osakis.
- Bark’n Pig Smokehouse BBQ, LLC, owned by Dean Clausen of Glenwood.
- Papa K’s Rescue BBQ, owned by Jeffrey Johannes of Alexandria.
The council also issued a massage business license to Mei Ding, doing business as Lucky House LLC.
Quit claim deed approved
The council approved a quick claim deed with the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
About a year ago, the HRA purchased land from the Church of Seventh Day Adventists on Nokomis Street near the water tower. The title work showed that the city owned a small triangular portion of the land along the southern side of the parcel.
Why the city came into the title is unclear, according to the city's law firm, but it took title to the triangle from the school district in 1981.
In order to clear the title, the Alexandria HRA asked the city to convey its interest in the purchased property to the HRA. If the HRA is unable to obtain clear title, it would affect the marketability of the property, along with the square footage and the ability to build on the lot, according to the city’s law firm.