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Minnesotans shouldn’t count on Sunday liquor sales anytime soon

Roger Reinert
MinnPost photo by James Nord
“This issue is not going anywhere, and it’s not going anywhere until all of the people out there who stop me all the time and say, ‘Hey, we love it,’ are willing to do more than just tell me they love it.”

A key backer of Sunday liquor sales acknowledges that the perennial issue isn’t going anywhere this session.

The Senate Commerce Committee heard Sen. Roger Reinert’s alcohol bill on Monday, but no vote was taken.

The Democrat from Duluth said Sunday sales legislation doesn’t currently have a House committee hearing scheduled, and said it’s unlikely the measure will come up for a vote in the Senate.

“This issue is not going anywhere, and it’s not going anywhere until all of the people out there who stop me all the time and say, ‘Hey, we love it,’ are willing to do more than just tell me they love it,” a beleaguered Reinert said in an interview. “Primarily because the strength of the liquor store lobby.”

Backers of the bill include individual liquor stores and — polling suggests — most of the public, but union members and the mainstream liquor lobby have pushed hard against the measure for many years.

The political director of the Teamsters Joint Council 32 and a lobbyist for the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association and the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association both testified Monday against the legislation.

The Teamsters oppose the bill because the union’s members don’t want to work on Sundays.

Marryann Campo, who has worked with South Lyndale Liquors since 1975, said her family opposes Sunday sales because it wouldn’t be economically beneficial for their business.

Supporters, including Jason Alvey, owner of the St. Louis Park specialty liquor store the Four Firkins, say the law wouldn’t force any business to stay open on Sundays.

Jason Alvey
MinnPost photo by James Nord
“It is the year 2013, yet I pay rent 52 days a year that I’m not allowed to open my business, and I think that’s very frustrating,” liquor store owner Jason Alvey told the committee.

Reinert considers Sunday liquor sales as a free-market issue.

“It is the year 2013, yet I pay rent 52 days a year that I’m not allowed to open my business, and I think that’s very frustrating,” Alvey told the committee. “Let’s gain the extra tax revenue. Let’s give the people what they want. Let’s give progressive retailers like myself the ability to run our businesses how we see fit.”

Reinert told MinnPost that if consumers want the longstanding law to change, they have to do something to combat the powerful interests pushing for the status quo.

“You have a powerful lobby in the liquor stores. You have a powerful union with the Teamsters, and those two pair up, and they’re here every day talking to legislators,” Reinert said.

“Everybody always asks me, ‘Who’s asking for this?’ People. Remember those folks out there that we’re supposed to represent that shouldn’t have to have a lobbyist and an organization to make something happen? That’s who’s in favor of it.”

A grass-roots group called Minnesota Beer Activists has come forward to fill that void.

Andrew Schmitt, the organization’s director, thanked Metzen for holding the hearing after it had finished and casually dropped into conversation that the group had a 2,000-person-strong petition asking for Sunday sales.

Reinert believes that’s the sort of action necessary to change the law. He points to the success of the so-called “Surly bill” — which came from the support of beer lovers across the state.

“I think the politicians are used to hearing lobbyists. They’re down here every day, but consumers don’t have a chance to get their voice heard. They’re busy working, paying the bills,” Schmitt said. “Although we don’t make great beer, we sure support it. That’s one of the great challenges. As a consumer organization, we don’t have a bunch of money to throw behind it.”

Commerce Committee Chairman James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, said he’s likely willing to have a straightforward vote on the measure if Reinert pushes for it. 

Metzen, who said he hasn’t formed an opinion on the issue, said he isn’t sure if it would pass through the committee. “That’s why I think [Reinert’s] hesitating,” he said.

Reinert said House Commerce Committee Chairman Joe Atkins told him that a Sunday sales bill wouldn’t get a hearing in the House, a factor that’s contributed to his pessimism.

Atkins said he wasn’t sure there would be a hearing in the House or whether a House bill will be introduced.

“I don’t know yet,” he said when asked if the measure would get a hearing. “I’ve got to read the bill.”

Reinert made an appropriate quip at the beginning of the Senate Commerce Committee hearing: “This is an extremely lengthy bill,” he joked. “I think we have five lines of text to it.”

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Comments (8)

Blue Laws

Personally, I would love to pop out to buy a bottle on Sunday when I'm doing my weekly grocery shopping.

If they are so concerned about a day off

then change the law to read closed one day per week instead of Sundays. Most stores would close Mondays or Tuesdays or maybe even Sundays, but likely there would be one nearby liquor store open every day of the week as a result.

Have never understood why this is a problem

Why are liquor store owners the only store owners in the state who need a law in order to take a day off? I was glad to see one store owner stand up and say that his store loses money being closed half the weekend.

Bread and circuses

It's tempting for the legislature to curry favor by offering up cheap distractions, but they really have much more pressing business to attend. Besides, I like having a day that's set apart from normal routines, and I really find it very easy to keep an extra beer stocked in the fridge in case I want one Sunday night. The last legislator pushing this idea a couple years ago said that she thought it would help Minneapolis' tourism... that we should try to be more like Las Vegas. No thanks.

It is tourism like Portland

It is tourism like Portland Oregon and Denver Colorado that they are looking for, not Las Vegas. Those are great beer cities and when you visit a brewery or a taproom on Sunday can buy some of that beer and take it home. In MN, you can go to a taproom, brewpub or a bar and drink what you want but you can't buy any off-sale. Some of these new taprooms are also closed on Sundays when they want to be open because of this issue. Why are liquor stores special that they get government protection of a 6 day work week? What would happen if they forced Target to close on Sundays?

Who Needs Money?

When you can drop an untraceable case of their favorite Scotch in the back seat of a legislature's unlocked car while they're in session.

Local Craziness

Minnesota came as a bit of a shock to me when I moved back here after 40 years in California, where supermarkets carry liquor and you can buy it anyplace, any day, except during the hours of 2AM to 6AM. The ten-o'clock shutdown and Sunday closings seem like a relic of some other age. I agree with Mark Ohm, the poster above, who said if the liquor stores want to be closed one day a week why must it be Sunday for all of them? If they want one day closed, let them pick one and rotate! Minnesotans are adults and can presumably be trusted as well as Californians with their own liquor consumption habits.

Proving Democracy is a Fraud

Very quickly I believe polls show that over 80% of Minnesotans want to be able to by at least beer or wine on Sunday. Nationally over 80% of Americans think foods should be properly labeled as to GMO content. In both cases the vast majority is totally ignored by our elected representatives. Maybe everyone should call their Reps and ask why the interests of the majority are unimportant and how much does it cost to be important.