Dollar General Corp. dispatched a lawyer and two figures from upper management to Monday night’s meeting of the Perry City Council in order to try to persuade the council to reverse its March 1 denial of a liquor license for the Perry store.
“The reason we’re here tonight is we’re asking the council to reconsider the denial of the beer and wine license renewal,” said Jace T. Bisgard, an attorney with Shuttleworth and Ingersoll of Cedar Rapids. “Our hope and goal is that we can present to you tonight why you should reconsider and that we can avoid having to go through an appeal process with the Iowa ABD.”
Bisgard was joined by Dollar General Regional Director Chris Bergquist of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Dollar General District Manager Jesse Kelsay of West Des Moines.
In March the Perry City Council denied a liquor license renewal application for the store at 705 First Ave. due to ongoing violations of the city fire code — blocked aisles, blocked emergency exits, blocked electrical panels — observed by Perry Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chris Hinds, who recommended that the council deny the renewal request.
The Perry store was informed March 8 by the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD) that the city council did not approve a renewal of their liquor license. According to Iowa administrative law, if an appeal concerns a denied renewal application, the business is allowed to keep selling beer pending a final decision by the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
Dollar General Corp., headquartered in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, operates more than 16,000 stores in the continental U.S. Bisgard said the Perry store “is in the top 10% of sales for Dollar General locations for mid-size stores here. It is a popular location. It is a busy location, and it is hopefully a valuable part of the community here.”
Bisgard said the popularity of the Perry store was a mixed blessing because it caused the fire code violations.
“With the store being so busy with the inventory, the store personnel had difficulty over the years and especially early here in 2021 keeping up with inventory,” Bisgard said, “and that caused some pretty regular issues with clutter and inventory blocking both store aisles and emergency exits, which obviously led to concern with fire code and safety regulations and just a variety of other issues. Dollar General readily admits that those issues were in place, and we are not here to disagree or dispute the council’s decision in March.”
Bisgard presented the mayor and council members with an “action plan,” outlining the steps the company is taking to correct the problems. The action-plan steps include changes in management and personnel, safety training for all staff members, increased staffing on delivery days, more managerial oversight and improved floorspace after remodeling.
“We believe that Dollar General has taken and will continue to take sufficient steps to address those issues,” Bisgard said. “Quite frankly, we’ve heard the city council and Fire Chief Hinds loud and clear, and we’re working very hard to fix those issues.” He said that “all store personnel have undergone extensive safety training that has made very clear the importance of keeping the aisles and the fire exits always clear.”
The city leaders thanked the Dollar General leaders for their presentation and for the improvements promised in the action plan. Perry City Administrator Sven Peterson emphasized that the fire-code problems are longstanding.
“I just want to make clear that this is not something that just started last fall,” Peterson said. “Chief Hinds has been getting complaints probably for years. So this isn’t at all a new thing, and I know a couple of times, when Chris has tried to talk to the people there, what did one person say? ‘Oh, don’t worry about it. They won’t do anything about it anyway.’ So to that point, this is just the first action item that we’ve been able to figure out to get some attention.”
“It’s gone on for quite a while,” said the Perry Fire Chief. “I know dispatch has gotten several calls at the PD.”
Perry Mayor John Andorf commended the improvements at the store but regretted the action that brought them about.
“I want to thank you for coming tonight and doing your presentation and for listening to us, quite frankly,” Andorf said. “The store does look better. I like the openness better. But I’ve gone there many times over the last quite a few years, and this has been going on all too long. I feel it’s unfortunate it took a council action to deny your liquor license to really get much change, in my opinion.”
The council took no action, so the administrative appeal process will proceed.