Over the past many years, as St. Michael has grown, one constant has remained. Across from the restaurant location on south side of Center Avenue and First Street Northeast, a liquor store has served the St. Michael community.
It’s had its ups and downs – that little store. But thanks to Craig and Darla and a team of employees that “feel more like family,” Backyard Liquor is proud to be booming as St. Michael’s only locally owned liquor store.
“It’s definitely seen its history,” Craig said one late winter morning from the counter inside Backyard. “Of course, we’re kind of living through history right now. Buying a liquor store right before a pandemic – well that wasn’t something we really planned.”
Craig and Darla both have their “day jobs,” Craig working as a sales consultant and Darla as a speech pathologist for the STMA School District. But they’ve poured a lot of sweat, dollars and changes into the store over the past two years. Their reward – some of the best months for liquor sales across Minnesota as people have moved their social gatherings from bars and restaurants to backyard patios and driveways.
“It all made everyone get pretty creative, but the one constant was people needed a drink every once in a while,” Craig said with a smile. “Really, every dollar we’ve made through this, we’ve put back into the store, with the hopes that even after this is over, Backyard Liquor has some staying power with people. I think St. Michael has a dedication to locally owned business, and we’re proud to be the only locally owned store. And we’ve upped our service to kind of meet people where they’re at with curbside loading and even some delivery. Now, as things change, we still want to provide the local service and friendly feel.”
The stock in the store has totally changed. Craft beers and seltzers are well-stocked in the cooler, along with stand-by beers like Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Lite and Michelob Golden.
There are also new rows of whiskey and other spirits, some great new wines and a staff that likes to dabble with both what they’ve experienced and what they’ve heard from nearby family and friends.
“It’s always changing,” said Ria Grossinger, a familiar face who heads up Backyard Liquor’s social media campaigns and organizes a lot of the in-store tastings. “We feel like we’ve been able to get the store to meet the curve, even get ahead of it. We order things at customers’ request. Our specials – wine and beer – match anyone’s so there’s no need to shop around. And we’ve had great success with our Wine Tuesdays where people can come in and get a taste and buy some items for as much as 20 percent off.”
Tobacco – cigars and cigarettes – are also competitively priced, Grossinger added.
Another thing that appeals to the local crowd – a bit of consistency and dependability. Craig said his goal was to never come up short on inventory, especially on items that are always in high demand. And the store maintained its hours, even during the high points of COVID lockdown, when other stores were turning the lights out at 8 p.m.
So far, they’ve seen the support come through.
STMA is fortunate, the Backyard team said. Other cities around this community don’t have a lot of variety because of municipal laws – Buffalo, Rogers, Monticello and Elk River are all served by city-owned “munis.” Only Otsego has other locally-owned stores.
“There has been a return, over the past few years, to really support local. We’re happy to be here. This is something we wanted to try. So far, we’re really thankful for all of our customers, and we hope to keep that growing,” Craig said.
101 Central Ave. NE – St. Michael
10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday
11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
Carry out and delivery available.