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Many Minnesotans have the blue law blues.
Old laws, holdovers from the days when businesses shut their doors on Sundays for religious reasons, are still in force for two types of businesses in Minnesota — liquor stores and car dealerships.
The latest Star Tribune Minnesota poll found more people in favor of lifting the ban on Sunday car sales than keeping the laws as they are.
“The laws seem to be a little bit archaic,” said Mark Grimes, 62, of St. Anthony, who has no trouble buying alcohol on Sunday when he visits family in California. “I don’t know why we can’t do the same thing here.”
Almost half the Minnesota adults polled by the Star Tribune earlier this year — 49 percent — said they thought the state should repeal the old laws that require liquor stores to close on Sundays. Another 44 percent preferred to keep Sundays dry.
As for Sunday car sales, 48 percent of poll respondents thought the laws should allow car lots to open on Sunday, while 40 percent opposed the idea.
Grimes, for one, was just fine with car shopping the other six days of the week.
“I think a day of rest in there is fine,” he said. “They sell cars six days a week and that seventh day gives them an opportunity to let their people rest. … You can always go out there and look at the cars on the lot.”
Every year, a few Minnesota lawmakers push the idea of lifting the ban on Sunday liquor sales — calls for a change in the car sale laws are less common — and every year, the Legislature votes those attempts down by thunderous margins. Last year, the House rejected a Sunday liquor sale bill by a vote of 106 to 21.
One Minnesotan ready for the ban on Sunday sales to end is Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton.
“Commerce is well enough established as seven days and nights a week now,” Dayton said earlier this year. “There are an increasing number of Minnesotans for which Sunday isn’t a religious holiday.”
Decades ago, blue laws restricted almost all forms of commerce on Sundays. No clothes shopping, no running out for groceries.
Sometimes, a drugstore might be open for emergencies, but there were stringent, and confusing, rules about which products could be sold on Sunday — you could buy camera film, but not a camera; lipstick, but not a mirror; a pet bird, but not a bird cage.
Most of the Sunday sales bans have faded away. Every state that borders Minnesota now allows stores to sell alcohol on Sunday. Wisconsin shares Minnesota’s ban on Sunday car sales.
If the Legislature passed bills legalizing liquor or car sales on Sunday, Minnesota’s governor says he’d sign them into law.
“They’ve both become routine enough that if businesses want to open and can do so without detriment to the community, they should be able to do so.”
And while there are some liquor store owners pushing for Sunday sales, car dealerships are less thrilled by the idea.
Car sales are such a competitive businesses, they argue, that if one dealership opened on Sunday, the rest would be obliged to follow suit.
“If the law is changed, as soon as one dealer opens, they’ll all have to open,” said Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.
“It is the dealership employees who really suffer. For the dealerships, you’re adding costs and not really adding sales, overall. Managers, sales personnel are either going to have to work seven days a week or they’re going to have to hire additional personnel.”
Sunday liquor sale supporters are preparing for a major push in the Legislature again this year. Right now, no one is talking about pushing for a change to the Sunday car sale ban.
Lambert and his members hope it stays that way.
“I don’t think we’re doing the public any harm. We’re open long hours,” Lambert said. “It is simply a family-friendly law. It’s just that simple.”