The taproom boom that has spread locally brewed porters, pilsners and hoppy ales across Minnesota has always stopped at the Bloomington border, where the city's charter prohibits them.
Now voters in Minnesota's fifth-largest city will have the chance to decide whether to allow taprooms there, too.
The city's charter allows on-sale liquor and beer only in hotels, restaurants and clubs.
"Our hands are currently tied. We just can't entertain those possibilities in the city," said Doug Junker, a license examiner for Bloomington.
A ballot question for the Nov. 5 election asks voters if they support removing the provision in the city charter that regulates alcohol sales in the city. If the amendment is approved, alcohol would still be regulated by state law and the city code.
The state now licenses 124 microbreweries in Minnesota, up from 16 in 2011, according to the state Department of Public Safety.
Robin Shellman, founder of the Twin Cities-based Better Beer Society, said adding taprooms goes beyond just adding more places for residents to sip a beer. Many feature local art, welcome dogs or host rounds of trivia.
"When you go to a taproom, you're going to experience a labor of love and you're looking for that communal space," Shellman said. "You're probably not going to find pictures of 'Animal House' or a TV up on the wall. You're going there to have beer and conversation be front and center."
Bloomington residents Joe and Anita Smithson have started a political committee to push for the amendment. The couple have lived in Bloomington for a decade but travel to Edina or Minneapolis to visit a taproom.
"It would mean that so much more of our entertainment dollars were spent within the city of Bloomington," Anita Smithson said.
So far, she said she's heard mostly support for allowing taprooms in Bloomington, though she's heard from a few residents who think the city already has enough places to order a beer. Mostly, she's encountered residents who weren't aware of the ballot question.
"A lot of people say 'Oh, I was wondering why we didn't have those here. Now it makes sense but yeah, let's change it,' " Smithson said.
Discussion about the issue started among city officials last year when the city received inquiries from people looking to open a taproom in the area. Once city staff started looking into writing zoning codes, they realized the charter wouldn't allow it. Statute requires any charter amendment relating to the sale of liquor to go to a vote. If approved, the section of the amendment would be removed 30 days after the election.
Kyle Schmidt, vice president of operations with the Better Beer Society, lives in Richfield and believes Bloomington could support a variety of breweries, from large brew pubs to small neighborhood taprooms.
"I think people assume that there are so many breweries now and that they are so ubiquitous, there's not going to be room for more," Schmidt said. "But people continue to support places near where they live or work."
The hyperlocal taprooms that focus on on-site beer consumption rather than large-scale production are continuing to do well in the Twin Cities, Schmidt said.
"There's lots of healthy and flourishing taprooms in first- and second-ring suburbs," he said. Some suburban cities even advertise available sites in the Growler magazine, hoping to attract a brewery or distillery.
Those who wrote the city's charter several decades ago likely couldn't have imagined the popularity or demand for taprooms, Smithson said.
"This [provision] has just been hanging out there since the beginning of our city charter, and I don't think it was really looked at until now," she said. "Almost all the cities around us have taprooms except for Bloomington. I think this is a great opportunity."
Early voting in Bloomington begins Friday.
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440