Starting Wednesday, it will be legal for anybody 21 and older to buy adult beverages from some bars and restaurants in Anoka and consume them as they walk on sidewalks and along the riverfront in the city's historic downtown.
And with a merchant's permission, customers can even step into a shop with an alcoholic drink in hand.
Anoka is debuting the first social district in the state after gaining legislative approval to pilot the concept, which allows for relaxing laws prohibiting open consumption in most public places within a specific geographic boundary.
In Anoka, the district will include the area roughly along E. Main and Jackson streets from the Rum River to 3rd Avenue, and along 2nd Avenue from Main to Harrison streets.
"We are excited to start something that will grow and bring something positive, fun and social," said Gloria Cichocki-Nelson, one of the owners of 201 Tavern Beer Garden & Grill. "We're hoping for an increase in business for sure. Even if they have a drink at another place, they might have a drink with us. Getting people downtown is half the battle."
Businesses took a hit when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and woes continued for the past two summers with construction on nearby Hwy. 10. Things are finally starting to get back to normal, Cichocki-Nelson said.
A ribbon cutting at 5:45 p.m. Wednesday in Riverfront Memorial Park followed by a concert and food trucks will mark the opening of the district, which will be in operation from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Oct. 7.
Social districts have become popular in other cities and states as a way to generate activity and bring people together, said Doug Borglund, Anoka's community development director. Anoka already has several one-day events, including its food truck festival, with a "sip and stroll attitude," which led the city to seek permission to create the district, he said.
"Many residents of Anoka and surrounding areas are already embracing the idea that you can enjoy what our beautiful city has to offer and an adult beverage at the same time," said City Council Member Erik Skogquist. "I can't think of a better city to pilot this concept in, and look forward to the increased vibrancy this will create in our downtown and along our riverfront."
Bars and restaurants within the district will pay the city $25 for a license allowing them to sell to-go drinks. Beverages will be served in recyclable plastic cups displaying a social district logo. The beverages must be consumed within the district boundaries, cups cannot be reused and nobody is allowed to bring their own alcohol into the district.
Marijuana won't be allowed in the district, either, Borglund said.
All state and city laws regarding public intoxication and impaired driving apply to areas inside and outside the social district boundaries.
"We do intend to monitor the district the first week to see what is needed for enforcement," Anoka Police Chief Eric Peterson said.
Concerts, movies and other special events will take place during the month-long pilot. City staff will prepare a report outlining how the district operated and present its findings to the City Council and the state Legislature. The report could be used to allow the law's expansion to other cities and towns.
"We are hoping for success with something unique," Borglund said. "We are trying to add another element and something interesting downtown, to give people an experience."