In latest push for Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota, a new strategy

MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

DFL Sen. Roger Reinert thinks Minnesota should treat Sunday liquor sales the same way it treats its 2 a.m. bar close time. Under state law, bar owners don’t have to stay open that late — but they have the option to if they want.

In the two-term senator’s latest strategy to peel back the state’s ban on Sunday liquor sales, Reinert plans to propose legislation in the 2015 session that allows local governments to choose if they want their liquor stores to sell booze on Sunday. He’s working closely with his counterpart in the House, GOP Rep. Jenifer Loon, who carried similar legislation last year. 

“I’ve always thought that was a sensible compromise and it allows us to take community norms into consideration,” said Reinert, who says the norm in his Duluth Senate district is to see many people hopping over the state border into Wisconsin, which allows Sunday liquor sales. Minnesota is one of just 12 states with a Sunday liquor sale ban still on the books.

It’s a different approach than Reinert tried last year, when he threw out a slew of different proposals to deal with the state’s blue laws prohibiting Sunday alcohol sales. The package included the local choice option, as well as the sale of so-called “growlers” by craft breweries on Sundays along with a full-blown repeal of the ban.

The idea was to throw every proposal out at once and see what stuck. The problem: nothing did.

Legislators in the state House managed to pass a bill off the floor that allowed Sunday growler sales. But that proposal was defeated in a dramatic show on the Senate floor, which meant the House had to go back and take that provision out of their bill, too. In the end, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a fairly status-quo omnibus liquor bill. 

“We just need to look at last session to see that throwing the whole spectrum of bills out doesn’t really work,” Reinert said. 

It’s a familiar story line at the Capitol. Every year legislators debate repealing the Sunday liquor sales ban, and every year it’s defeated by a powerful coalition of small, independent liquor stores (represented by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association), and the local Teamsters union, which says passing Sunday sales would re-open their contracts with other liquor stores.

Rep. Roger Reinert
State Sen. Roger Reinert

Reinert says he’s hopeful Republicans taking over the state House can be spun as a positive development in terms of the Sunday liquor sale debate. Loon, who did not return calls for this story, has been an assistant leader in the House in the past, and Republican Speaker-elect Kurt Daudt has recently become supportive of repealing the ban. On the campaign trail this fall, Gov. Mark Dayton said he will sign a bill to legalize Sunday sales if it lands on his desk.

But powerful figures like the governor or a House Speaker have never come out pushing to repeal the ban, even though Reinert says it would be a smart move for any politician — polls show Minnesotans overwhelmingly support Sunday liquor sales.

Andrew Schmitt, founder of the Minnesota Beer Activists, says it’s too early to tell if anything will change for Sunday liquor sales in 2015. His group has been pushing an online campaign this fall to try and raise awareness about the issue, but the problem has always been matching the klout an influence of the MLBA and the Teamsters. “I’m hopeful it will get passed in the House,” Schmitt said. “Hopefully that leads to action in the Senate.”

He fears a push to get even the sale of Sunday sale of growlers — 64-ounce jugs that can be filled with beer, sold and taken home — will flounder again this session, given it mostly benefits metro-area craft breweries and doesn’t resonate with the entire state. It’s still early, but it’s clear the new Republican majority will have a rural-Minnesota focus.

Andrew Schmitt
Andrew Schmitt

“Growlers, that would have been a nice place to start, but we look at the state of Minnesota and it doesn’t concern the majority of consumers,” Schmitt said. “It’s a small niche in the market. It won’t serve many people outside of the metro. I don’t know how hard anyone will push for it.”

GOP Rep. Joe Hoppe, the incoming chair of the House Commerce Committee, which deals with liquor bills, has voted against repealing the Sunday liquor store ban on the House floor in the past. And in 2011, chairing the same committee, he didn’t hold a hearing on the proposal to avoid attaching controversy to the omnibus liquor bill. Hoppe did not return calls seeking comment.

Despite his commitment to renew his efforts, Reinert is pessimistic. Some lawmakers may be changing their tune on the issue, but there’s never been enough momentum to turn a large number of votes at once, and the same senators who squashed Sunday liquor sales last year are still in office now.

Reinert has suggested putting the issue to the voters in the form of a constitutional amendment, but lawmakers had little appetite to do that this year, after the 2012 ballot featured two controversial amendments. But the 2016 ballot will already feature an amendment to create a council to determine legislative pay, and Reinert thinks there’s room for at least one more.

“If we fail to do anything this session of significance, you will see a significant push in 2016 to have it on the 2016 ballot,” Reinert said “This is the make or break session.” 

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Raj Maddali on 11/25/2014 - 10:21 am.

    Protest the MLBA

    Buy from Total Wine, the mortal enemy of the MLBA, to send a message.

  2. Submitted by T J Simplot on 11/25/2014 - 10:22 am.

    No brainer

    This is such a no brainer I don’t even know why it is up for discussion. I know some store owners don’t want it and neither do unions, but you know who does….a majority of Minnesotans.

    If you don’t want to be open on Sundays, then don’t. Restaurants have it figured out. There are some that are closed on Sundays or other slower days and they do just fine.

    I’m sure the stores in Stillwater, Duluth, Moorhead, etc would love to have those additional sales on Sunday instead of them going to WI and ND.

  3. Submitted by Steve Carlson on 11/25/2014 - 10:50 am.

    Nothing will change

    Until conservative, rural DFL leadership in the Senate is ousted.

    The missing story here is how absolutely and bitterly opposed to Sunday sales rural municipal liquor stores are. We can blame the teamsters, and they’re a convenient scapegoat but the reality is it’s rural legislators protecting their cities’ monopolies and profits that’s driving opposition.

    Their greatest fear (and consumers’ greatest hope) is that the municipal liquor stores get kneecapped by sales in groceries stores.

    And yes, vote with your dollars: shop Total Wine.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/25/2014 - 12:28 pm.


      To be clear here, the initiative is talking about allowing Sunday liquor sales, not about allowing grocery stores to also sell liquor. Those are two different issues to address.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 11/25/2014 - 03:04 pm.


      let’s hope that local mom and pop businesses get “kneecapped” by large companies like Total Wine who can only afford to offer their prices because they can buy at incredible volume…just so you can buy a bottle of vodka on Sunday because the other six days weren’t enough for you.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/26/2014 - 11:01 am.

        Vodka on Sunday

        I don’t think it’s the state’s business when I buy my liquor. I also don’t think anyone gets to decide what is “enough,” as long as I’m not out driving with it inside of me.

        I will, however, continue to buy liquor from my neighborhood store instead of from a place like Total Wine.

      • Submitted by Steve Carlson on 11/26/2014 - 11:48 am.

        Their pigheadedness

        Is enough to earn my ire. No sympathy for the “mom and pops” that have successfully gamed the system.

  4. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 11/25/2014 - 12:35 pm.


    What perplexes me is why we’re letting business owners and unions dictate to us what our laws should be. Isn’t government by the people, for the people? Not by the corporation, for the corporation.

    Oh, who the heck am I kidding?

  5. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 11/25/2014 - 02:32 pm.

    Not blue laws

    This is a mystifying issue. It’s not blue laws or community norms that are causing the problem. It seems to be competition. Liquor store managers who choose to stay closed on Sundays are worried their competitors will choose to be open. And they will lose sales. As a result, these liquor store managers want the state to force everyone to be closed, no matter what. Protecting liquor stores from competition is not the state’s responsibility.

  6. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 11/25/2014 - 05:19 pm.

    Liquor on Sunday

    What’s wrong with being closed on Sundays? Why do we have to have retail stores open 24/7? Is it really a good thing that we now have Black Friday sales on Thanksgiving? Same thing applies to Liquor Sales. If you run out of booze on Sunday morning, maybe it would be a good time to reflect on whether you are drinking too much.

    • Submitted by Dave Clark on 11/26/2014 - 08:39 am.

      Agree and disagree

      I grew up in a culture where there was nothing open on Sundays or past 8pm on weekdays and Holidays like Thanksgiving were strictly for family time. I cherish those days and to this day, I will not shop on Thanksgiving, no matter how good the deal and would probably never feel the absolute need to purchase liquor on Sunday. Where I disagree is that I don’t feel it’s right for the government to make it “illegal” for a local business owner to open his/her business on Sunday or any other day or time.

  7. Submitted by Dave Clark on 11/26/2014 - 08:31 am.

    Regulating Business Hours?

    I’ve always been perplexed by how we allow special interest groups and unions to dictate when a private business may or may not be allowed to operate. Like Sunday car sales, banning liquor stores from operating on Sundays isn’t about morality. It’s about special interests using government to level the playing field for those who would rather not be open for business on Sundays. Free enterprise should allow businesses to chose their hours of operation. Economics can decide what the appropriate days and hours of operation may be, as citizens/customers vote with their dollars. I look forward to a day (hopefully in my lifetime) when I can (if I choose) buy a new car, stop by the liquor store to pick up a six pack and go home and celebrate on a Sunday afternoon. I’m not even a big drinker and yes, I can survive just fine without buying alcohol on Sundays but the point is less about whether it’s necessary and more about why we allow government to decide WHEN a private business owner can operate.

  8. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 11/30/2014 - 10:18 am.

    The Race to the Bottom

    There is a tendency to believe that free enterprise is naturally good and that government regulation is bad. The reality is that sometimes, unrestrained free enterprise generates a race to the bottom that doesn’t benefit anyone, either the consumer or the business owner.

    A good example is selling cars on Sundays. The vast majority of car dealers like the current prohibition of sales on Sundays. They get one day off, plus they save the overhead of heat, manpower, etc. If this law was repealed, a couple of dealers would open up, and the rest would have to follow. If this resulted in extra sales, it might be worth it to the dealers, but that is highly unlikely. The number of cars sold, is going to be pretty constant, regardless of whether the dealers are open 6 or 7 days a week. The end result of repealing the Sunday closure law, is that the dealers’ costs are going to go up, which in the end will be passed along to the consumer.

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