At first, the e-mails seemed like a joke, or a misprint.
Surdyk’s, the family-owned liquor store in northeast Minneapolis, issued a social-media blast Sunday morning saying “Open Today,” followed by a short message that the store would be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Wait a minute. Yes, the 159-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales was lifted by the Minnesota Legislature, and the bill was signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, but the first day of legal sales was to be Sunday, July 2, four months from now.
“We just decided to open up,” said Jim Surdyk, owner and president of the business. “We’re here, we’re busy, it’s great. People are happy to be here.”
Among those less pleased was Minneapolis licensing manager Grant Wilson, who phoned Surdyk before noon Sunday to advise him to lock up the store or be in violation of state law.
“Not just the state law,” Wilson said by phone on Sunday, “but the city ordinance also needs to be revised,” which has not yet happened.
Wilson said he figured Surdyk would say he had made a mistake, but that didn’t prove to be the case.
Even though Surdyk said he was “in the middle on the new law,” he decided that since it was approved, why wait?
“The governor signed the bill, everyone wants the bill, they voted for it, why not be in business?” Surdyk said by phone from the store on Sunday.
“Why send our tax to money to Wisconsin, when we can do the business ourselves?”
Surdyk did not consult with any authorities before opting to open his store. It was a decision that he claimed was in line with his family’s tradition, dating to a 50-year-old state law that permitted stores to offer discounts on liquor for the first time.
“My father was the first one to discount liquor way back in the 1960s, and he didn’t wait till July to do it,” Surdyk said.
Wanted to be first
About 1 p.m. Wilson showed up at Surdyk’s, where the parking lot was full of cars, and advised Surdyk to “lock the doors.” If he did not comply with the advice, Wilson “was going to write me up,” according to Surdyk, who added that he planned on staying open till 6 p.m. By midafternoon, checkout lines stretched to the back of the store.
Said Wilson, “I documented three liquor sales so I could instigate citations.” The city allows a fine of $500 for the first violation, and doubles the fines for each added one.
“I’m guessing the fine for Sunday would be $3,500,” Wilson said, but the matter will go to the city attorney on Monday.
“The City will also pursue sanctions against the off-sale liquor license held by Surdyk’s based on the owner’s clear disregard of the law,” said a statement issued by the city Sunday evening.
Many customers, meanwhile, were at Surdyk’s to be among the first in Minnesota history to purchase liquor from a store on a Sunday.
“I have a receipt that I bought beer!” said Rick Spaulding, of Minneapolis.
“I guess maybe [Jim Surdyk] is trying to make a point,” Spaulding said. “But what if he loses his license for a week?”
Alan and Vinette Hamm drove down from Forest Lake when they heard about the store opening, and bought some wine. “We wouldn’t have come all this way except for the first-day thing,” Alan Hamm said.
Some stores opposing Sunday sales said it was hard on employees, and Surdyk agreed, up to a point.
“It’s tough to get help,” he said, adding that he needed to schedule about 10 people for the liquor store and a few others for the adjoining cheese shop, which had not previously been open Sundays, even though no liquor is sold there.
“People who are not used to working Sundays would rather have the day off. But people will get used to it. I just hope in the future, a lot of people will do shopping on Sunday. We have to wait and see.”
While he noted some other liquor retailers grumbling on Twitter about his decision to open early, Surdyk said he had not heard of any other stores doing the same.
The new law doesn’t require liquor stores to remain open on Sunday, and some may opt to remain closed.
On Twitter: @Claude Peck