The key lawmakers behind the state’s push to legalize Sunday liquor sales unveiled their latest attempt to repealing the state’s 80-year-old ban, saying overwhelming public demand could bring success in 2015.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said this year's bill is simple and straightforward. It’s a change from a spectrum of bills offered by the duo two years ago, which included giving communities the opportunity to opt in or out of Sunday sales. They went nowhere, so Reinert said the focus remains on a full repeal. It’s likely the shortest bill he’ll author this session, he said.
Both Loon and Reinert have been vocally optimistic about this year’s chances to make Sunday sales a reality, with the support of House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Gov. Mark Dayton, who said he would sign the bill. However, Dayton made clear Thursday that pushing Sunday liquor sales legislation was "not a high priority."
"I think to say you can have all the shopping you want on Sundays except for alcohol and automobiles just doesn’t fit the modern era," he said. Still, "It’s not something I’m going to expend a lot of political capital on".
Loon’s bill, one of many filed this session, has 20 co-authors from both parties. In a state where 75 percent of residents live within 30 miles of a neighboring state where Sunday sales are legal, they say it’s time for special interests to listen to overwhelming public demand.
“There are certain powerful forces on the other side of this. What is on the pro side of this is the people of Minnesota,” Reinert said. “Here we are in a state that in the last couple of years has made marriage equality law, has dealt with the issue of medical marijuana, but somehow liquor sales on Sunday is too much? That’s a bridge too far?
The effort continues to face staunch opposition from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, who argue Sunday sales will simply spread six days of sales over seven days, resulting in higher overhead costs without the profit. But Loon and Reinert were flanked by four local liquor store owners who say being forced to close on Sunday cuts into their profits.
Louis Dachis, owner four Merwin Liquors locations in Minneapolis and Ace Spirits, a boutique liquor store in Hopkins, said a typical Saturday generates twice the amount of sales of a weekday. He expects Sunday to be the same. At his smaller store, he would likely cut hours on a slower weekday, such as Tuesday, to make up for the cost of being open on Sunday. No matter what, it should be up to him, he said.
“What we’re asking for is the opportunity to make those business choices and to better serve our customers and improve our business.”
David Hansen runs Hansen’s Liquor in Stillwater, “just a stone’s throw” from the Wisconsin border, where Sunday sales are legal.
“I am literally right on the border of Wisconsin,” he said. “This could literally mean the difference between success and failure for my store.
Mick O’Connell, owner of Booze Mart in St. Paul, said he pays the rent on Sundays, as well as the electricity bill to keep the coolers running and the beer cold.
Each month, he said, “You’re taking away four days that I can’t sell liquor. Literally 14 percent of the year, I can’t make a dime off my business.”
Tamra Kramer owns Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store in the Mall of America. Her customers want it, she would generate an additional $50,000-100,000 in profits annually.
Loon said the first step is attempting to get a hearing, so the bill might gain traction. They anticipate roadblocks in the DFL-controlled Senate, who blocked last year’s bid to allow the Sunday sales of “Growlers,” or refillable glass beer containers from taprooms, after concerns from the Teamsters union that they may have to work Sundays. Loon said she’s open to accommodating them by amending the bill, and is open to listening to other concerns.
“I will say publicly I am happy to put language in the bill that would make the Teamsters comfortable,” Loon said. “As I understand it, their concern is their members working on weekends to make deliveries. I know that liquor store owners can manage their inventory and operate in a way that would not be necessary. I am happy to write into the language of the bill that they would not be required to make deliveries on the weekend. If the Teamsters are listening, please come and see me.”
Photo: Tamra Kramer, Owner of Vom Fass, a specialty liquor store at the Mall of America advocates for Sunday liquor sales. Behind her are the bill's key legislative sponsors, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie