Melissa Surdyk arrived at her family's Minneapolis store to find an unusual scene for Christmas Eve: 35 people standing outside in the 20-degree morning, waiting for Surdyk's Liquor & Cheese Shop to open.
For the first time in Minnesota history, liquor stores opened on Sundays earlier this year, marking the end to a ban that is more than a century old. And the change came just in time for the holidays, with both Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve falling on Sundays this year.
"Usually liquor is the last thing on the list, so it's good to be available," said Surdyk, sporting a Santa hat and reindeer sweater after wishing customers a merry Christmas. "Today was a big day for just being open."
Minnesota, which had the Sunday liquor ban in effect since statehood in 1858, joined 38 other states and the District of Columbia that now allow some form of Sunday retail alcohol sales. Under the new law that took effect last July, liquor retailers can open their doors from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, a shorter window than the rest of the week, and still must close on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
"It's very convenient," said Eden Krysmalski of Minneapolis as she got a bottle of wine for Christmas Eve. "We got so used to it not being possible."
In fact, a Decorah, Iowa, couple who moved away years ago said they'd forgotten that Minnesota even had the Sunday ban.
"We just got lucky, I guess," said Becky Burland, as she and Scott Iverson loaded up bottles of rum at Surdyk's to take advantage of a selection larger than that at their hometown liquor stores. "When we come up here, we load up."
Not everyone supported lifting the Sunday ban. Some liquor stores chose to stay closed on Sundays, while cities such as Ely voted to continue the Sunday sales ban and municipal stores in places such as Bemidji and Walnut Grove also opted to stay shut.
Off Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Nick Nadeau said being open on Sundays this year has been a wash for 1st Grand Avenue Liquors, which his father opened in 1962. The change just spread sales over seven days, he said. But being open on Sundays for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve this year has boosted business so far.
"We didn't know what to expect," he said. "The holidays are working out great."
Nadeau worked the holiday to give more employees the day off and plans to do the same for New Year's Eve and one big Sunday in February — the Super Bowl, which is taking place in Minnesota.
"I suppose I'll end up working then too," he said.
At another St. Paul liquor store, whose managers declined to comment, customers filtered in, brimming with last-minute requests: What wine pairs well with a crab dinner? What would you add to a punch? Do you have an affordable bottle of chardonnay?
"I'm so glad you're open," said Stacey Ringness of West St. Paul, after having forgotten a bottle of wine at home on her way to a party. "I'm very grateful. [Sunday liquor sales are] a long time coming."