Tony Chesak’s first phone call of the day Thursday was crucial for one of the thousands proprietors he represents:
Is it legal to take a drink from a bar on to a party bus?
In his 14 years with the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA), the phone call from a local bar owner was nothing new — it’s his job not only to advocate for the 1,400 bars and liquor stores the organization represents — commonly referred to as license-holders, but also to be an everyday problem-solver from major to mundane. In this case, he told the bar owner, no, it’s not legal.
Chesak is now doing his job in a more prominent role. Over the summer, he was named the new executive director of the MLBA — the powerful organization well-known for its staunch and vocal opposition to efforts in the Legislature to repeal the state’s ban on Sunday liquor sales. Chesak, who claims in his years on the job that he’s visited “every bar in the state three times and towns you’ve probably never heard of,” said that while the MLBA’s stance on Sunday sales remains the same, he’s taking the organization in a new direction, with business owners becoming the face of the MLBA rather than simply lobbyists. He’d like to do that in part by boosting membership.
“I think legislators value seeing their constituents and license-holders, and we’re going to have a different face to us; more boots on the ground,” he said.
Chesak is passionate about the job. A Wisconsin native whose grandfather ran four bowling alleys, Chesak grew up in bars and remembers his grandfather’s deep admiration for the Tavern League of Wisconsin’s service to liquor license-holders. He’s taken on that role in Minnesota.
Although the push at the State Capitol to repeal the Sunday sales ban has been growing in momentum, Chesak said it’s not necessarily bound to happen. “I don’t buy the ‘It’s inevitable’ pitch,” he said. “I know the public polling shows more support, but when you look at the industry, an overwhelming number of license-holders don’t want Sunday sales, and we represent the license-holders.”
Those license-holders say Sunday sales would simply be bad for small businesses forced to compete with big-box stores. “It’ll kill us. The businesses right now are having a hard enough time,” said Joe Gardner, an employee of Mac’s Liquor in Hopkins, who was enjoying a beer with friends at the State Fair last week.
Not far away as music thumped at the Leinie Lodge, Katie Heckley and her boyfriend, Vaughn Leuzinger, of Mankato, sipped their beers and mused that yes, it would be nice to be able to hit the liquor store on a whim on Sunday. “Would it be a convenience if the law were to change? Absolutely, but I don’t think it’s something I’m going to lose sleep over,” Leuzinger said.
Tom and Kirstin Schmitz of Braham are open to a repeal. Or not. They don’t really care. “It’s fine. Whatever,” he said.
“We have nothing against having a drink on Sundays,” Kirstin Schmitz said. “It doesn’t really matter if you plan ahead.”