Imagine not having to cross the Stillwater Lift Bridge if you wanted to buy off-sale liquor on Sundays.
A bipartisan bill reintroduced in the Senate this week aims to repeal the long-standing ban of selling off-sale liquor on Sundays—and would allow liquor store owners the option of being open for business seven days a week.
Would that be a good thing? Who would benefit?
“Allowing liquor sales on Sundays would open a big can of worms,” Stillwater Liquor Manager Chris Newkirk said on Tuesday. “It’s a step toward allowing grocery stores to sell wine … and that scares a lot of people.”
Public opinion polls show Minnesotans are in favor of Sunday sales, but a lot of people don’t understand all the things that are connected to it, Newkirk said.
One way to better understand the issue is to look at the lobbyists behind it.
The state’s liquor lobby—made up of Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association (representing 90 percent of the city-owned liquor stores) and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association—have long opposed a repeal of the ban.
"We just want to keep things as they are," Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, told the Star Tribune this week. "Wisconsin's got their way of doing things, and Minnesotans have their way of doing things."
If the ban is lifted, liquor stores in border towns like Stillwater would benefit, but there’s a cost.
Any Stillwater native knows if they want to buy liquor on Sunday, they just have to drive five minutes across the border, so they don’t buy-up on Saturday, Newkirk said. In that respect, repealing the ban would benefit local stores.
But then there’s the cost of doing business seven days of the week.
“If Sunday sales were allowed, you would have to be open,” Newkirk said. “If you’re not you’re your neighbor—in our case, Cub, Walmart and Haskell’s—will be.”
When weighing Sunday sales along with wages and utility costs, Newkirk said, it could be a wash. Studies show that in other states, where Sunday sales are legal, people don’t buy more alcohol—their buying patterns simply change.
While repealing the Sunday ban makes sense for border towns, it likely wouldn’t benefit stores in the middle of the state.
"It is definitely more of a convenience for the public to be open Sundays, but from economic standpoint I don’t know that our liquor store bottom line would increase," Darin Nelson, finance director and interim city manager for the City of Fridley, which operates two municipal liquor stores told Fridley Patch. “I have had several discussions with my liquor store operations manager about Sunday liquor sales. For the most part, people within our city or area are conditioned to purchase their liquor prior to Sunday. I do believe our sales would likely increase some, but what I don’t know is if our sales would increase enough to cover the additional expenses of being open an additional day."
There are also moral implications.
“I don’t know how convenient liquor should be,” Jack Lanners, owner of Woodbury’s MGM Liquor Warehouse told Woodbury Patch. “Do you want drive-through?”
Then there’s the issue of jobs.
“Big stores like Walmart don’t want a distributor in the way, they want to deal directly with Jim Beam,” Newkirk said. “That means a lot of lost jobs. There is a lot at stake here and it scares a lot of people.”
Currently, Minnesota is one of 12 states that still ban liquor sales on Sunday.
According to a MinnPost report on a policy analysis presented two years ago during a Senate hearing, Sunday sales in Minnesota could mean an estimated $7.6 million to $10.6 million in new tax revenues.
The bill was reintroduced by Senators Roger Reinert (D-Duluth) and Jeremy Miller (R-Winona).
The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. If the Senate Commerce Committee Chair James Metzen decides to hear the bill it will continue to move along in the political process; if not, the bill is likely to die before making it to the floor for discussion.