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The municipal liquor store's new signs were recently installed at a cost of just over $27,000. They are message boards that carry ads, public service announcements and in-store promotions. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Liquor store signs prompt question of buying locally

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A Park Rapids business owner is miffed that his bid for new signs at the municipal liquor store was passed over on what he says is a technicality.

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Larry Engel, owner of Engel Sign Company, maintains he would have been the successful bidder if the vendors had been on a level playing field.

City officials say they advertised for bids, provided specifications and awarded the low bid to Fargo-based Indigo Signs at a cost of $27,667.80.

Engel's bid was $29,353.20. The third bid, from Ross Lewis Sign Co., in Bemidji, came in around $29,800 in two separate amounts, with or without a permit.

While it would have been nice for a local company to be awarded the work, "the council typically uses the process of the low bid," said city treasurer Angela Brumbaugh.

Engel's beef is that when all was said and done, the electronic message board installed under the "Rapids Spirits" sign on Highway 34 didn't meet the same specifications he bid on.

"We did end up, when we got the final sign, the message board on the sign out front ended up a different length and height," than the specifications, said liquor store manager Scott Olson.

"The actual sign that says 'Rapids Spirits' out front, the base of the sign and the sign on the east side are exactly what we came up with," he added.

"The message board was a different length," Olson said. "It was longer than spec and a little shorter. It came out about 500 square inches less but has all the same capabilities."

But initially all vendors bid the same size sign, Olson said, a 2-by-8.

Engel points to that 500 square inches as the difference.

"That's what takes the money," Engel said. "Those things are about $12,000, those message centers. I gave them a price on two foot by eight foot. That's about a $5,000 or $6,000 difference."

Olson, who didn't participate in the decision to award the bid, said he's not sure if the bids would have turned out differently if the other two vendors had bid 500 square inches less.

"In the final product, I don't know," he said. "The bids came in and we actually got the sign cheaper than expected, so I was happy with that."

"The city is broke and yet do they need a $27,000 sign, you see?" asked Engel.

But when queried as to whether the city would have needed a $27,000 sign furnished by his company, he added, "Well sure."

He'd like to see more local vendors get city and county work, and pointed to items such as squad cars, lettering contracts and other items that have gone to out-of-town or out-of-state companies.

Smaller local companies cannot compete when they're dealing with smaller volume sales and inventory, he maintains.

But city and county officials maintain they cannot give preferences to local companies without fear of being sued by a disgruntled bidder. And in a tough economy, there is a greater likelihood that vendors are apt to sue for work they didn't get.

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