Sunday liquor sales: New approach offers legislators pick-and-choose options

At least one of the approaches, banning sales on Saturday instead of Sunday, is Rep. Roger Reinert’s tongue-in-cheek way of point out to how bizarre he thinks the Sunday ban is.

In the big picture of important issues, Sunday sales of liquor probably doesn’t rank up there with improved transit, funding for education, tax rates, employment opportunity and minimum wage increases.

Yet, efforts to repeal the state’s blue laws always draw a media crowd because this is one of those issues that affects every Minnesotan who might want to buy a bottle of wine on Sunday. 

And so it was Thursday that Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, got a full house of reporters and television cameras when they unveiled the newest plan to repeal the state’s liquor sales ban.

Unlike previous efforts, the two legislators offered a plan that gives legislators seven approaches to ending the perplexing ban.

“We’re taking a different approach,’’ said Reinert. “We’re offering everything from full repeal to local options.’’

Range of options

At least one of the approaches, banning sales on Saturday instead of Sunday, is Reinert’s tongue-in-cheek way of point out to how bizarre he thinks the Sunday ban is.

Besides the Saturday ban, Reinert/Loon are offering legislators the following menu:

  • Full repeal of the sales restrictions;
  •  A bill that repeals the ban but gives municipalities the option of having restrictions;
  • A bill that would allow municipalities to choose to allow sales on Sundays;
  • Allowing craft breweries to sell “growlers” on Sundays;
  • Allowing tap rooms to sell alcohol on Sundays;
  • A constitutional amendment that would allow the voters to decision whether the blue law should be lifted.

(By the way, the term “growler” — like so much in our culture — was new to me. Turns out a growler is a glass or ceramic jug used to transport beer. You get the growler filled at your neighborhood craft brewer, lug it home and return for refills as needed.)

‘Baby steps’

Both Loon and Reinert admit that allowing growler sales and sales at tap rooms would be “baby steps.’‘

Rep. Roger Reinert
Sen. Roger Reinert

But the reality is that even baby steps will be difficult to accomplish. Liquor laws are risky. You never know what groups might be offended by a change. Typically, legislators like to let sleeping dogs lie.

Yet, Reinert keeps pointing out that it is the 21st century and that on other issues, legislators have acknowledged that times have changed.    

“We’re the state that legalized gay marriage, we’re a state where a committee has passed a bill that legalized medicinal marijuana, but we can’t buy a bottle of wine on Sunday,’’ said Reinert.

As it is, Minnesota is in company with 11 other states, many in the Bible Belt,  that prohibit Sunday sales: Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, Montana and Utah.

This does not seem like typical Minnesota company.  But there’s a simple reason Minnesota is hanging out with this crowd of states.

Lobbyists powerful on issue

“A classic case of lobbying,’’ Reinert said. 

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association works the issue hard, saying that lifting the ban would not increase sales, but merely be an economic burden to the small liquor stores and municipal liquor establishments that dot the Minnesota landscape. They’d be forced to stay open, paying labor costs while not increasing sales.

Those small establishments already are having a hard time fighting the big-box liquor stores.

More than $1 million has been spent on lobbyists since this issue revved up in the 21st century.

Rep. Jennifer Loon
Rep. Jennifer Loon

The industry, however, isn’t united on this issue. For example, a national organization called the Distilled Spirits Council praised the Reinert-Loon effort. In a statement, the organization said that Minnesota “should become the 17th state since 2002 to pass Sunday sales legislation.’’

But what’s needed, Reinert said, is for “regular old folks’’ to connect with their legislators. 

Yes, there are polls that show that more than 60 percent of the people in Minnesota want to repeal the ban. Yet, simply answering a pollster’s question is not enough.

“If you want to have it, you have to get involved,’’ Reinert said.

He says he has received more than 3,000 emails, praising his efforts to lift the ban.

But apparently many  legislators haven’t felt so much as a nudge.

“There is not a bleep on my radar screen that says we need to do it,’’ said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who will vote against any effort to lift the ban.

Free-market politicians split on issue

The issue divides let-the-market decide politicians.

Loon, for example, uses the free-market argument to explain her interest in pushing for repeal.

Since joing the Legislature in 2009, Loon said, she’s always looked for ways “to create more economic freedom in Minnesota. … Some liquor store owners may not want to be open on Sunday. I’m not here to say they have to be.’’

Meantime, Limmer, who typically might argue for marketplace freedom, isn’t buying the “liberty argument.’’

“If you’re using that argument, then, maybe those businesses should be open 24-7 and we should allow them to be open across the street from playgrounds. There are reasons for having restricted hours and regulations,’’ Limmer said.

Most of all, Limmer said, legislators should “listen to the businesses’‘ before making changes.

“My prediction is that if we allowed Sunday sales, a lot of liquor store owners would go under,’’ he said. “Those big warehouse stores would move in, and we’d lose a slice of Minnesota.’’

But Reinert counters that Minnesota has changed in profound ways in the eight decades since the end of prohibition.

In most households, both spouses are working, and in many cases heads of households are working more than one job. That means, he said,  that “the vast majority of shopping is done on the weekends.’’ He added that Sunday has become a bigger day to go to the market than Saturday.

Both Reinert and Loon talk about “momentum.’’ But in the next breath, they talk about “reality.’’

“You have to be realistic,’’ said Loon. “This may have to be a multi-step process.’’

Comments (25)

  1. Submitted by mark voorhees on 03/07/2014 - 09:57 am.

    sunday liquor sales

    Should not be allowed. I believe the added expense for the small shop is greater than the sales benefit for our border shops.

    • Submitted by Renee Engebretson on 03/07/2014 - 11:17 am.

      You’ve obviously never been in Hudson on a Sunday!

    • Submitted by James Hamilton on 03/07/2014 - 11:20 am.

      It’s not the Legislature’s business

      to regulate competition among merchants. The fact is that liquor stores in many localities face no competition whatsoever and many that do are not battling big-box liquour stores.

      The Sunday liquor sales bans simply makes no sense in an era in which people can be found working every hour of every day. If a store needs to close for a day to make it a go, there are 6 other days in the week. I imagine they’d do even less business on a Monday than they’d do on a Sunday, but that’s there call, not mine.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/07/2014 - 03:44 pm.

      Data

      “I believe” is not a valid method to craft laws and set policy as people on the other side of the debate can simply make the same claim. You need to come up with actual data if you want to take one position or another.

    • Submitted by Ned turnbuckle on 03/08/2014 - 12:59 pm.

      If liquor stores don’t want to be open on Sundays perhaps we should look at opening sales in grocery stores, convenience stores and gas stations. They don’t seem to have a problem with being open on Sundays.

  2. Submitted by Matthew Kilanowski on 03/07/2014 - 10:34 am.

    It’s really telling that when I entered “liquor store” into a Google search moments ago one of the top options on the auto-complete is “liquor store hudson wi”. It’s not because I’ve ever entered that into a search before, it’s Google’s servers knowing the local market. The weekend is approaching, and there will be more than a few Minnesotans crossing the border on Sunday to bring home a bottle or two.

  3. Submitted by Joe Downing on 03/07/2014 - 11:10 am.

    There’s a really simple solution to this whole issue

    Mandate that liquor stores must be closed one day a week but let them choose the day. Some will close on Sunday and some will close on Monday. Small stores won’t have their expenses go up but consumers will be able to buy alcohol any day of the week somewhere other than Wisconsin.

    Why does everything have to be so complicated?

    • Submitted by Rob Sauer on 03/07/2014 - 11:48 am.

      Or . . .

      Specify a different closed day during the week for all stores. That would still be better than Sunday.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/07/2014 - 03:50 pm.

      Even Simpler

      Or have an even simpler rule, which is no rule at all. If stores want to close, they can close. No one is forcing them to stay open. If they want to pick a day or even several, then by all means they can do so.

      • Submitted by Joseph Stans on 03/09/2014 - 09:17 am.

        Even Simpler

        Sorry, Todd, that makes sense. The legislature has along history of sucking up to special interest groups and ignoring the voters. This is a chance for all the muffin heads we elect to get their name in the news paper for free and avoid having to make a decision.

  4. Submitted by T J Simplot on 03/07/2014 - 11:14 am.

    No brainer

    Why should liquor stores be different than other stores? They should have the option. If they don’t want to be open on Sundays, then don’t. There are lots of restaurants around that choose to close on either Sunday or Monday and they do just fine despite the competition from other restaurants.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 03/07/2014 - 12:14 pm.

    If the seculars

    believe that Sunday should treated like any other work day, then all government offices should be open on Sunday too.

    In fact, how can those who insist on the concept of “separation-of-church-and-state” justify closing government offices on Sunday?

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 03/07/2014 - 03:41 pm.

      It’s just about

      Freedom Tester. If the liquor store does not want to open on Sunday, so be it. If a particular govt office does not want to be open on Sunday, so be it.

    • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/13/2014 - 10:46 am.

      Interesting

      You do come up with some doozies, Mr. Tester. Most government offices are actually closed Saturday AND Sunday. Probably just to cover their rears regarding which day is actually the Sabbath. 😉

      Or, it might be because Sunday happens on the weekend, and the weekend is a product of the workers’ rights movement and not simply linked to religious beliefs (though that was the original basis for the chosen days).

      That being said, you might have something here. I’d support government being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, instead. I still want to be able to buy liquor on Sunday, and if a business so chooses to sell it to me on Sunday, that should be how the law works.

  6. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/07/2014 - 12:35 pm.

    I’m More Concerned About

    Not being able to buy un-pasturized milk from a farmer, if that’s what i want to do. I can’t even do that on Saturday.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 03/07/2014 - 01:30 pm.

    Let the People Decide

    That way the extremists will have something to gather their anti- forces for again being that they were shut out on their gay marriage and voter discrimination issues of the last election.

  8. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 03/07/2014 - 02:45 pm.

    A related question. .

    is why can’t one buy wine or beer in grocery stores? You can buy all sorts of alcohol in grocery stores in Milwaukee County 24-7 (though not in St. Croix County for some reason).

    The Sunday ban on alcohol sales is naked economic protectionism, similar to minimum resale price laws. I can understand why it exists. I don’t understand why the right wingers support it. But then again, who said the right wing had any principles?

  9. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 03/07/2014 - 03:55 pm.

    Do Tell

    “There are reasons for having restricted hours and regulations,’’ Limmer said.”

    And those reasons are what?

    “Most of all, Limmer said, legislators should “listen to the businesses’‘ before making changes.”

    No, legislators should listen to PEOPLE, not businesses. They are here to serve us, not corporations. Last I checked, the preamble does not say “we, the limited liability corp,” it says “we, the people.”

    Give the people what they want. Businesses will adapt or go under–that’s the free market at work.

  10. Submitted by Jim Smith on 03/08/2014 - 05:28 pm.

    Seriously?

    It is sad the legislatures think so little of Minnesotans that if they had an extra day to purchase liquor they would be a danger to themselves or others. That is why we have laws right?

    Limmer is an interesting dude. Scary to be in Maple Grove if a liquor store near a playground would have a negative impact. Too many drunk kids would be very bad. If the small business would go out of business for staying open on Sundays they could close on Tuesdays. No one who does not have it really needs liquor on Tuesday. It is Sunday Funday not Tuesday Funday.

  11. Submitted by Bill Wargin on 03/08/2014 - 07:34 pm.

    Buy wine on Sundays in NC

    The author is not correct about alcohol sales in NC. I can buy wine and beer (real beer not 3.2) on Sundays – in grocery stores!

  12. Submitted by Joseph Stans on 03/09/2014 - 09:09 am.

    Liquor Sales

    This is the perfect situation for our legislators. they are in a position to muddy the waters so much that whatever happens they don’t have to take responsibility for the decision. never mind what is right or what the people want.

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