Minnesotans rolled out of bed Sunday and, for the first time in state history, had the option of making a trip to their local liquor store.
At 11 a.m. the state ended its more than century-old ban on Sunday liquor sales, just in time for the Independence Day holiday. It joined 38 other states and the District of Columbia that now allow some form of Sunday retail alcohol sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).
Liquor store owners and customers across the Twin Cities appeared to embrace the change.
“It feels as if a freedom has been lifted,” said Fred Kreider, 25, who was among the first in line and about to buy a keg of beer at Zipps Liquors on E. Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. His wife, Jillian Perkins, 31, nodded in agreement.
Opposition to the Sunday ban, in effect since statehood in 1858, began to snowball in recent years, thanks in part to the support of newly elected lawmakers responding to overwhelming public support. The law was overturned in March by bipartisan majorities, though not without drama.
Surdyk’s Liquor & Cheese Shop, an 83-year-old institution in northeast Minneapolis, famously defied the July 2 start date by opening for business on March 12. At first, unamused city officials suspended the store’s liquor license for 30 days and slapped owner Jim Surdyk with a $2,000 fine, a penalty later reduced to a three-day suspension spread out over the first three Sundays starting yesterday. The fine was raised to $50,000.
As Robert Taylor, 54, walked out of Zipps on Sunday, cradling a brown paper bag in one arm, he said that he felt conflicted about Sunday sales.
As a small-business owner, he said that “any kind of business is good.” But he said that as a black man, he worried about the social implications of keeping liquor stores open an extra day, particularly in poorer neighborhoods.
“For people of color, I just think there are lots of issues,” he said.
Inside Zipps, owner Jennifer Schoenzeit played the role of traffic cop while employees served hot dogs, chips and mixed drinks. Sales were brisk, she said. Remaining open seemed like the right decision, she said, because “people are very behavior driven,” not “liquor loyal,” and would have found somewhere else to shop.
Meanwhile, down the street, the parking lot of Skol Liquors was empty. A sign at the entrance of the store, usually open Monday through Saturday, read unapologetically: “Open 4th of July 10 a.m.-8 p.m.”
Under the new law, alcohol retailers statewide are allowed to remain open Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., but cities may pass an ordinance to keep liquor stores closed.
For years, Minnesotans hankering for a Sunday drink had no choice but to head to a nearby bar or drive to Wisconsin, where liquor has been sold every day of the week for as long as anyone could remember.
But, at least on the first day of the new law, liquor vendors across the border hardly seemed to notice a difference.
Shelton Davis, night manager at Chicones Liquor Mart in Hudson, said he hadn’t seen any drop-off in customers with Minnesota IDs stopping by the store.
“We’re open 13 hours, and six of those hours Minnesota is closed,” Davis said. “We don’t panic; we’ve got good deals.”
Last week, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, — a key player in the yearslong effort to legalize Sunday sales and a potential gubernatorial candidate — retweeted a post counting down to the new era: “Psst, it’s the last Sunday before #SundaySalesMN.”
On Sunday, Daudt bought a four-pack of Surly beer from Stinson Wine, Beer, and Spirits in Minneapolis, surrounded by cameras.
Hours later, Marisa Knoss, 37, emerged from the same store carrying a bottle of white wine, on her way to a barbecue.
“I needed to be a part of history,” she said.
Lillian Yang, co-owner of Snelling Avenue Fine Wines in St. Paul, expressed cautious optimism that the new law will be a boon for business. “We just wanted to test it out first, and see how it goes,” Yang said on Saturday. “Some [customers] are really excited about it because they don’t have to go to the border anymore.”
Eager to lure customers, the store offered a 10 percent discount on all purchases Sunday, Yang said.
The reaction on social media Sunday ranged from supportive to mocking.
“150 minutes in. No signs of the apocalypse. No apparent decaying of the moral fiber. This just might work. #SundaySalesMN,” said one Twitter commenter.
Summit Brewing Co. posted a photo of one of its canned beers next to a neon “Open” sign with the caption: “Today is the day, and what a fine Summer day it is. #SundaySalesMN.”
Outstate, many liquor store owners didn’t share the enthusiasm.
Life will go on, said Paul Kaspszak, executive director of the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, which opposed ending the ban. Still, he expressed concern the law could open the door to further deregulation, in large part because of heavy lobbying by such big-box retailers as Total Wine.
“The vultures are already circling: we’ve got the grocery and the convenience store people already starting to say, ‘Hey maybe we shouldn’t have 3.2 beer anymore, maybe we should have something stronger now,’ ” Kaspszak said last week, referring to the lower alcohol beer that until now was the only thing available. “All of a sudden they want to sell chardonnay with the Cheerios, and they want to sell beer with the chicken and then we have a problem.”
Supporters of the ban included some store owners, beer distributors and the Teamsters union.
Not that she’s completely sold on the new law, but Buffalo Lake Liquor manager Karissa Kurth said it made financial sense for her shop to open on Sunday. In June, officials in the 700-person town, located about 90 minutes west of the Twin Cities, voted to allow Sunday sales on a trial basis over the next few months, Kurth said.
Part of the town-owned store’s revenue goes into Buffalo Lake’s general fund, to “give money to the fire department for new firetrucks” and to pay for other city needs, she said. What worries her most are the increased operating costs, she said.
At Cash Wise Liquor in Brainerd, the hope was to capture some of the energy of Saturdays, traditionally the shop’s busiest sales day, said Matt Rhoda. “We’re constantly restocking products in the coolers and stocking the shelves.”
“We’ve had little spurts of nothingness, but it’s been mostly busy,” said Rhoda, one of four employees working Sunday.
The concern among some is that the law will increase overhead for small family-owned stores by forcing them to stay open on Sundays to compete with bigger retailers.
“I suspect the ones that won’t be open are the ones who feel they’re more destination locations,” said Dave Kuennen, owner of North St. Paul’s Brightwines, a one-man shop that specializes in high-quality wines. “This law is not designed to help us; this, in fact, ignores us.
“Within the business, it’s well understood that the next step is grocery stores,” he said by phone Saturday evening as he closed up shop. He will reopen on Monday, like any other week.