For third-generation auto dealer Dan Koppy, some things in the family business are held sacred.
“I even remember as a kid, Grandpa was always home on Sundays,” said the owner of Koppy Motors, a Forest Lake dealership that has been around since 1936.
In an evolving industry, auto retailers locking their doors on Sundays is one thing that hasn’t changed in Minnesota for decades, thanks to a 58-year-old “blue law.” Auto dealers say they appreciate the law because it guarantees them a day off without having to worry about losing business to competition.
But a Minnesota lawmaker is reviving a dormant attempt at doing away with a law she calls ridiculous, and the industry isn’t happy.
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said she’s capitalizing on the momentum in this year’s effort to repeal the state’s ban on Sunday liquor sales — one that is being met by similar pushback by liquor store owners.
Much like the liquor industry, Minnesota auto dealers enjoy a powerful lobby, but they are content to watch the liquor debate unfold from the sidelines. The most recent attempt to repeal the Sunday auto sales law took place in 2008 and went nowhere.
Scott Lambert, executive vice president of the Minnesota Association of Auto Dealers, said he believes 99 percent of the 365 outlets his organization represents oppose Sunday sales. In a day and age where customers have research at their fingertips, the amount of time it takes to buy a car has shrunk dramatically, Lambert said, essentially forcing a dealership to stay open if the competitor down the street is doing the same.
“The employees and their families take this very, very seriously and there is a huge constituency to keep the law as it is,” he said. “I cannot find a constituency that wants the law removed.”
Liebling brushed off the argument that repealing any sort of ban would require anything of independent business owners.
“I have to reject the premise that anybody’s being forced to do anything,” she said. “There are plenty of businesses that choose to close this day or that day. Right now they’re being forced to close. They are literally forced to close on pain of criminal penalty in the car sales case. I reject that.”
Clash of old, new
Karl Schmidt, CEO of Morrie’s Automotive Group, which employs 940 people at its 10 outlets in the Twin Cities and Wisconsin, said he supports the law as it stands, but is pragmatic about the issue. It’s a consumer-driven market, he said, clashing with antiquated laws.
“If customers want to buy cars on Sunday it’s hard to argue that they shouldn’t be able to. I get that,” he said. “Sometimes I wish I could buy a bottle of wine on Sunday, but I can’t.”
Others say it wouldn’t be so easy to adapt. Mark Juettner, owner/president of Juettner Motors in Alexandria, said in addition to higher overhead costs, Sunday sales also pose logistical problems — namely financing for customers.
“None of the lending sources are open on Sunday,” Juettner said. “How are you going to handle that? Start them being open on Sunday?”
Although other bills filed this session push for repeal of the ban on Sunday liquor sales, Liebling’s bill addresses both “blue laws.” She goes even further, proposing that the state also eliminate a ban on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day liquor sales. Liebling says she has no personal interest in buying liquor on those days, but maintains that the government should not be telling stores when to close.
Liebling said she did not speak to any fellow legislators before she filed the bill, and acknowledged it may not gain much traction in the GOP-controlled House. She does, however, hope it will pick up the support of lawmakers opposed to the Sunday liquor sales ban, since she says both are based on the same premise of limited government interference with a free market.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, whose newfound support for Sunday liquor sales is credited with the change in momentum, is not yet on board with Sunday auto sales. Daudt, who spent much of the past 20 years working in car dealerships, said he backs a liquor repeal because there’s been a call for it. Not so with cars.
“I’d have to think about it, but I’ll consider anything,” he said. “We’ll see if it catches any steam. If folks want that, then they’ll have to reach out to their legislators.”
Minnesota is one of 13 states that prohibit car dealerships from opening on Sundays, while a handful of other states have partial bans. That includes all of Minnesota’s neighbors, with the exception of South Dakota.
Trace Beck, a Pierre, S.D., auto dealer who is chairman of the South Dakota Auto Dealers Association, said that although dealerships in his state can open on Sundays if they want, he can’t think of one that does — they like the day off. He is not sure whether competitive pressure would ever force dealerships to run seven-day operations.
“But I doubt it,” he said.