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In the midst of what’s become a perennial fight at the State Capitol over legalizing Sunday liquor sales, Dakota County — like Minnesota itself — is far from consensus.
South-metro cities that run municipal liquor stores have the same opinion as private stores on Sunday sales: No thanks.
For many of their customers, it’s an issue of convenience, with polls showing widespread support for the change.
And adding a new dimension is a new proposal by Rep. Patrick Garofalo, R-Farmington, that would allow liquor sales only on Super Bowl Sunday of 2014.
The Dakota County lawmaker’s bill joins a broader bill, similar to the one that failed by large margins in both 2011 and 2012, that would legalize liquor sales on Sundays, along with several holidays.
Garofalo, who has voted against Sunday sales in the past, said his bill has “the best chance of passing” out of all the Sunday liquor sales bills.
“There’s always been controversy surrounding this issue. I thought this would be a reasonable, sensible way to introduce the issue, to do a pilot project for one day and report back to the Legislature,” he said.
His bill offers a compromise on what has long been seen as a losing proposition by the liquor store industry, led by the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association.
“I think what you’d see is your Saturday sales decrease and those sales would be spread out over Sundays,” said Jason Fannin, manager of The Cellars Wine and Spirits in Eagan. “You’d see higher overhead and maybe a 1 percent sales increase.”
Cities with municipal liquor, such as Lakeville and Savage, feel the same, and have told the state as much in their annual legislative priorities. Other municipal liquor cities, like Apple Valley, oppose the concept but don’t specifically mention it in their priorities. The Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association shares the cities’ position.
“We just don’t think it makes business sense,” said Steve Mielke, Lakeville’s city administrator.
He noted that Colorado noticed small profit increases after allowing Sunday sales, but not enough to cover the additional day of operation.
“People have enough opportunities to buy it already,” said Barry Stock, Savage’s city administrator.
Stock also suggested that another day of alcohol availability could lead to more drunken driving and noted that there are years of culture behind the blue law, instituted after Prohibition ended.
In 15 years, only two residents have mentioned to him that they wanted Sunday sales allowed, Stock added.
But Eagan Mayor Mike Maguire, who stopped by a liquor store recently, says he sees no reason stores shouldn’t be open on Sundays.
“My attitude toward it is that businesses and customers should be able to make choices in the marketplace,” Maguire said.
Maguire’s opinion coincides with how the public generally feels about the issue. Last summer, 59 percent of Minnesotans polled by Public Policy Polling were in favor of legalizing Sunday sales, with 29 percent opposed.
And Andrew Schmitt, director of the Minnesota Beer Activists, a Twin Cities group that has focused its energy this session on supporting Sunday sales, noted that 38 other states already allow it.
“Clearly, it works in every other province and state around us,” he said.
Schmitt said that if Sunday sales were legal, stores could opt out of being open that day.
But many liquor stores think that’s unrealistic.
“If they passed it, we’d pretty much have to be open on Sunday” to match competitors’ hours, said Jim Linnihan, manager of Red Lion Liquors in Burnsville.
Linnihan said he doesn’t like the Super Bowl idea, calling it “a slippery slope” to legalizing Sunday sales generally.
Don Wells, a clerk at Farmington Liquors, agreed. “Once you open on one Sunday, then why not be open on all Sundays?” he said. “You don’t need to buy booze every day. You can plan ahead.”
Garofalo, however, said his bill has gained support on “both sides of the aisle.”
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive back in the district. Both supporters and opponents of Sunday liquor sales like the idea of trying it out,” he said.
But he wouldn’t adopt a pro-Sunday-sales position until he saw the results of the Super Bowl Sunday experiment, he said.
Garofalo said his previous votes against Sunday sales were based on liquor store advocates’ beliefs that another day of overhead costs would end up raising alcohol prices for consumers.
Some people in the liquor industry said the Super Bowl idea doesn’t sound all bad.
“I don’t have a problem with that at all. If there’s one day you’re going to do a crapload of business, it would be that Sunday,” said Fannin.