Legalizing Sunday alcohol sales in Minnesota will destroy small businesses to benefit only a few large retailers with already-deep pockets.
A few years ago, the Twin Cities suburb of Roseville removed restrictions on alcohol sales past 8 p.m. on Monday through Thursday, allowing liquor store owners the option of being open later. Increased hours of operation at my parents’ family-owned and -operated business of 31 years resulted in no added revenue. Rather, existing sales were spread out over the increased hours of operation; people who normally shop at 7:55 p.m. waited until 8:55 or 9:55 p.m. to complete their purchases. Increased hours of operation on weekdays greatly increased operation costs without any increase in revenue, and the same will happen if Sunday sales legislation passes this session, burdening small-business owners to an ever-crippling degree.
Small liquor stores in Minnesota have grown to operate within the confines of a certain degree of overhead based on a six-day schedule of operation: rent, utilities, employee wages, insurance, licenses, liquor-specific taxes, etc. are all taken out of the store’s income before profit. Sunday sales supporters’ expectation that small businesses can simply “keep the doors open an extra day” ignores the reality that without increased revenue, an extra day of operation adds to unavoidable employee and utility costs that can cause a small business to close its doors permanently. If Sunday sales legislation passes, store owners who opt to stay closed on Sundays will undoubtedly suffer most, because customers’ Sunday purchases, which used to take place on Saturday or Monday, would go to competitors.
It is less often discussed but of great concern how Sunday sales will negatively impact restaurants and bars (so-called “on-sale” establishments). Current state law permits on-salers to sell on Sundays, and, for many consumers, the restaurant or bar is where they go with friends on Sundays to watch the game over drinks and appetizers. The total bill for two people each having two beers and an appetizer at a restaurant or bar will likely run upwards of $40. What will happen to small restaurants and bars when their former Sunday customers have chosen instead to pick up a six-pack and a frozen pizza from the grocery store (for about $15) to watch the game at home?
The only businesses to benefit from Sunday sales will be large grocers and “big box” retailers. For grocers that already operate on a seven-day schedule, Sunday sales will merely be an extension of their product line to alcohol on Sundays. For big box liquor retailers (often based in other states), the practice of Sunday sales is already built into their operation costs from retail locations in other states, and their finances will be sufficiently padded to handle the transition. It is these big businesses that push for Sunday sales most vehemently because they know that they will benefit themost, while stamping out competition from the little guy.
Small businesses are the livelihood of many Minnesotans, built by blood, sweat and tears — not the “cash cows” that Sunday sales supporters would lead you to believe. This year, my father just laid to rest the Buick he drove to work at the liquor store for the past 13 years. The trade up? A car of the same year, same make and model, only with an engine that works and less rust. Sunday sales supporters often cite self-interest and greed as reasons that liquor store owners oppose this legislation, but as many small-business owners will agree, it is merely an issue of keeping their heads above water.
Seven-day alcohol sales in Minnesota will destroy mom-and-pop retailers around the state in the same way that big box retailers made street-corner pharmacies and hardware stores nearly obsolete. If retail purchase of alcohol on Sundays is in such high demand and moving to a seven-day law would result in the loss of so many small businesses, why not keep the six-day law and change the day on which retail sales of alcohol is prohibited, perhaps making it Monday or Tuesday? After all, early weekdays are already typically low-yield across the entire service industry, and don’t service industry workers need a day to do their shopping?
Scott Burwell, of Minneapolis, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota.