In a state where a majority of residents can drive just half an hour on Sundays to find an open liquor store across the border, it's time to reverse an outdated law that's costing Minnesota businesses money, a pair of state lawmakers said Thursday.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, unveiled their latest attempt at a full repeal of the state's ban on Sunday liquor sales. The pair said they are done with the halfway measures they had tried earlier, including allowing individual communities to opt in or out of Sunday sales. Those went nowhere. This time, Loon and Reinert said they're going for full-on Sunday sales.
The two have been noticeably more optimistic about this year's chances to make Sunday sales a reality, particularly since they have the support of Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who earlier had opposed repeal, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who has said he would sign the bill if it came to his desk. Both men, however, have made a point of saying that they do not plan to make repeal a top 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," Dayton said Thursday. Still, he added, "It's not something I'm going to expend a lot of political capital on."
Loon's bill, one of many Sunday sales measures filed this session, has 20 co-authors from both parties.
Minnesota is one of only a dozen states that prohibit Sunday liquor sales and it is surrounded by states that all offer seven-day-a-week sales. On Thursday, Loon and Reinert pointed to a map that shows 75 percent of Minnesota residents live within 30 miles of liquor stores in Wisconsin, Iowa, North and South Dakota.
"There are certain powerful forces on the other side of this," Reinert said, referring to the repeal effort. "What is on the pro side of this is the people of Minnesota. … 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."
Repeal continues to face staunch opposition from liquor lobbies like the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA) and Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association, both of which contend that Sunday sales simply spread six days of sales over seven days, resulting in higher overhead costs to liquor store owners without the profit.
"Alcohol policy is always a hot topic at the beginning of each legislative session. This year is no different," MLBA executive director Frank Ball said in a statement. "In the past, many senators and representatives have understood the importance of our current smart and balanced alcohol policy in the state. We hope to keep those legislators on the side of small business."
Despite the MLBA opposition, Loon and Reinert on Thursday were flanked by four local liquor store owners who say mandatory Sunday closure cuts into their profits.
Louis Dachis, owner of four Merwin Liquors locations in Minneapolis and Ace Spirits, a boutique liquor store in Hopkins, said a typical Saturday generates twice the sales of a weekday. He expects Sunday to be the same. At his smaller store, Dachis said he would likely cut hours on a slower weekday — perhaps Tuesday, his slowest day — to make up for the cost of being open on Sunday. No matter what, he said, it should be up to him. "What we're asking for is the opportunity to make those business choices," he said.
David Hansen runs Hansen's Liquor in Stillwater, "just a stone's throw" from the Wisconsin border. Sunday sales, he said, "could literally mean the difference between success and failure for my store."
Loon said she is anticipating resistance in the DFL-controlled Senate, which 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 the measure might reopen their labor contracts. The union expressed its displeasure with Reinert's efforts by rescinding their endorsement last year.
Loon said she's open to language that would "make the Teamsters comfortable" regarding weekend deliveries.