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I'll drink to that...

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On June 22, 1969, White Elephant Liquors opened its doors. Forty years later, now called Lake Park Liquors, the establishment is going strong and providing revenue for the city.

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The city paid cash for its $100,000 municipal liquor store 40 years ago, most likely saved from the profits of the off-sale bottle shop that had been located in the city in previous years.

Although it caused some major controversy when it opened, mainly because of the location across Highway 10, those in charge can see the benefit of its easy access and highly visible location.

One of those people is liquor store manger Phyllis Sagen. She was hired as the first waitress when the liquor store opened. A councilmen at the time asked if she was interested. She was -- it was a job.

"It was good money, too," she said. Sagen, who left for several years, came back 12 years ago and serves as the liquor store manager.

When she started as waitress, she earned $1.25 an hour plus tips, which she said were good and she almost felt guilty taking.

The former bottle shop was located downtown Lake Park, Mayor Keith Zachariason said, and citizens were upset at the prospect of having to cross Highway 10 to get to the liquor store. But, "even though it wasn't popular with the locals," the location has been a great asset, he said.

Councilmen "took a lot of heat" with the approval of the city liquor store, he added, because of taking it out of the downtown.

In 40 years, the liquor store has never been added onto, although there has been talk over the years, including that of adding a steakhouse. Zachariason believes that's something best left to private enterprise, not the city.

Also in the 40 years, there have only been four managers, including one that only stayed for two years, so essentially three managers in 38 years, Zachariason said.

"Profits from the liquor store, years ago, paid to blacktop the streets so there were no assessments," he said.

Now, the bulk of the proceeds go to the city park and swimming pool.

"The park is used by people in the area. The liquor store is used by people in the area," he said.

The park hosts three softball fields, the summer rec facilities and programs and the swimming pool.

It has also helped subsidize improvements to the water and sewer systems in the city, keeping costs to the taxpayers down.

The positive impact isn't just felt by Lake Park either, but most small towns with a municipal liquor store.

"Jobs, for one thing," Zachariason said, "and they help subsidize a lot of community projects."

Lake Park Liquors is also home to the fire department's charitable gambling, with most of the proceeds staying in Lake Park.

The fire department is "big givers as well," he said. "They're just as ... important (as the liquor store revenues)."

Some of the bigger changes over the last 40 years are the enforcement of DUIs, the smoking ban and, more recently, the decline in the economy.

"I think it was actually good. It gave people a reason to quit," Sagen said of the smoking ban. Although business may have dropped a bit from the smoking ban, it's back and the poor economy doesn't seem to have any affect on business, she added.

Zachariason said the liquor store was remodeled about 10 years ago and a new air handling system was installed. While that worked well, once the smoking ban took affect, the city still took down the wallpaper and painted, cleaned the carpet and ceiling and gave the place a facelift.

Another major change has been the addition of a computer in the off-sale portion of the liquor store.

Zachariason said when the store opened, the bottles of alcohol would have a ring with a sheet of paper attached to it around the necks of the bottles. When someone purchased the bottle, the tag was taken off the bottle and put aside to reorder that product and retag it.

Times have certainly changed with everything being scanned through the computer now.

Some of the bigger events at the liquor store each year include the Old Timer's Snowmobile Run in February, customer appreciation party in August and the firemen's dance and softball tournament.

On June 20, the big event will be a customer appreciation party, celebrating the last 40 years of the liquor store.

Sagen said she has wooden nickels, T-shirts and mugs printed with the 40-year recognition on them, and she will have karaoke that night.

Some of the employees plan to dress as staff did in the late 1960s, except Sagen. She said instead she will be awarding cash prizes to those (staff or public) with the best 1960s outfit. There will also be drink specials and Red Lobster certificates.

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