My wife and I own Westside Liquor, a small, family business in the St. Cloud area. We have loyal, longtime employees, and we treat them like family. Some employees are family, as two of our daughters have joined the team. We do everything in our power to make our customers happy, and to make our employees happy.
Alcohol regulations, particularly regarding hours and Sunday sales, have long been a hot topic for discussion in the media at the beginning of each legislative session. This year is no different.
Most people don’t know the detailed rationales behind Minnesota’s current laws and regulations for alcohol and liquor stores. And that’s understandable.
But there is a lot more to our current alcohol policies than many realize. Changes to those laws could have serious repercussions for small businesses, communities and consumers.
I support our state’s current alcohol regulations. They’re smart and balanced, and are supported by many citizens and many small businesses.
It’s true that our rules are different from those in many other states, but they work well for Minnesota and its citizens.
Many elected officials agree with us, as a majority of the Minnesota House of Representatives did in May 2013 when they stood with small, local businesses by a vote of 106 to 21 to support current alcohol policies and not allow Sunday alcohol sales.
Some wish to deregulate this proven system. That would be a step in the wrong direction.
First, Minnesotans currently enjoy unprecedented alcohol product availability and consumer choice, including a thriving craft brewing industry. Alcohol prices at the point of purchase here are below the national average. In addition, compared with other states, we enjoy significantly lower-than-average rates of alcohol-related abuse and accidents.
Clearly, Minnesota is doing something right.
Second, Minnesota provides a level playing field for all involved in the industry. Retail locations like liquor stores, bars and restaurants are mostly small, family-owned businesses. Even the suppliers and distributors that deliver to my stores are mainly family-owned operations. My wife and I, as I’ve noted, are lucky enough to have our family working with us at our liquor store.
Small businesses like ours provide good jobs, pay taxes, and contribute to our economy and communities. Meanwhile, many outlets that are not family-owned, such as municipal liquor stores and bars, are important sources of revenue for many local municipalities and communities and play a unique role in our state.
It’s because of our balanced alcohol policies and regulations that our local businesses can effectively compete with big-box stores. The costs that would be associated with increasing the hours or days when alcohol would be available would not be offset by an increase in the volume of products sold. Six days worth of sales would simply be spread out over seven days of operation. That’s why increasing the hours and days when alcohol could be purchased would not be cost-effective for businesses like ours.
Would it be possible to maintain our current net income with Sunday sales approved? I doubt it. This scenario sets up small, local businesses for failure. And I don’t think that’s what Minnesotans want.
Third, it’s also important to support our employees, who should not be working all the time. They need time with their families.
Lastly, alcohol is not a typical commodity. Society recognizes that certain commodities deserve special regulation under the law, much as prescription medicine and firearms are covered by special regulations and laws. Alcohol, too, is regulated, from its production to the point of sale, for the benefit of society.
Our current approach works well for Minnesota. It’s balanced and smart, and I hope we keep it that way.
Bob Feuling is the owner of Westside Liquor in St. Cloud.