Community concerned about safety after liquor license approved at St. Paul bar

Community concerned about safety after liquor license approved at St. Paul bar

Community concerned about safety after liquor license approved at St. Paul bar

Bob Karls brought out the windowpane that had been hit by a bullet in June of 2022.

He and his neighbors along Grand Avenue in St. Paul say it’s not the first time.

“When we look at the bullet that came [through our] window upstairs, it happened after midnight,” Karls recalls. “The violence that we’ve endured over the last two years has got to stop.”

“We’re concerned for our safety, we don’t feel safe,” adds her neighbor Jean Johnson. “Necessarily going outside at ten o’clock at night.”

Neighbors say the gunfire often happens after midnight — and they point the finger at the bar ‘Billy’s on Grand’ as a source of trouble.

“At 1:30 last May, gunshots rang out and one of our other residences in a building a couple of doors down from here, took bullets from their windows,” Karls says. “Billy’s windows were shot out during the exchange of gunfire.”

Police records show officers have responded to the address nearly 100 times over the last year.

More than a third were for alarms or proactive visits by officers.

But they also responded to fights, reports of theft, damage to property, and shots fired.

“I’m disappointed,” declared Keven Johnson, who lives close to the bar.

He says he’s among those concerned the City Council has approved a liquor license for the bar’s owner — the business, to be rebranded as ‘The Gather Eatery and Bar.’

Johnson says he’d hoped the city would require an earlier closing time.  

“Other places that have had difficulties after midnight typically go away with earlier closing hours,” he notes.  

The liquor license approval does have conditions, though:

  • Security or staff must conduct outside sweeps after 10 p.m.
  • Plans need to be formulated for round-the-clock video surveillance and lighting.
  • Use of an ID scanner system to record information from all patrons after 10 p.m., to be kept on file for 30 days.
  • With an 11 p.m. closing time, no patrons are to be admitted thirty minutes before closing time.
  • Last call is to be given 30 minutes before closing time.

“I think it’s appropriate that they put these safety measures in place,” Jean Johnson says. “We want all of the businesses along Grand Avenue to be very successful because that makes us a vibrant, healthy neighborhood.”   

However, a city license application review did not find sufficient evidence to deny the liquor license.

And documents say city discussions with police did not find evidence directly tying the business to any nuisance or crime activities.

Karls says neighbors hope for change — and plan to keep watching the situation closely.

“The neighborhood surrounding here… has to deal with the consequences of people leaving at that closing hour and creating violence and mayhem and gunshots,” he declares. “We’ve had so many episodes of gunshots in our neighborhood. It just has to stop.”

In an email sent Thursday morning, the owner of Billy’s on Grand pushed back against neighbors’ claims against the establishment, writing that “we categorically deny any insinuation that Billy’s on Grand has fostered an environment conducive to criminal behavior in our community,” adding, “We are committed to upholding the safety and well-being of our patrons and the surrounding community. We have consistently cooperated with law enforcement and have taken proactive measures to ensure compliance with all recommendations set forth by the liquor license board.”

“As a responsible member of the business community, we take these matters very seriously and are dedicated to maintaining a safe and welcoming environment for our patrons. We remain committed to working collaboratively with local authorities and community leaders to address any concerns and contribute positively to the neighborhood,” the email stated.