As border wars go, this victory may go to the consumer.
This week, liquor stores in Minnesota opened for business on Sundays for the first time since statehood in 1858. Across the river in Wisconsin, where Sunday liquor sales are as much a tradition as Packers green and gold jerseys and the first day of deer hunting season, merchants watched their own cash registers with concern.
The day after the first salvo was fired, liquor store operators in Hudson, Wis., across the St. Croix River from Minnesota, gave mixed reviews to its impact, adopting a too-soon-to-tell mantra but also pledging to up their game, no matter what.
After all, this is Wisconsin, home to 12 of the 20 drunkest U.S. cities, according to findings compiled by one online financial news outlet.
At Spirit Seller Liquors in downtown Hudson, owner John Kromer acknowledged his store took a hit but would not quantify the impact. "Trade secret," he said.
Kromer, who has been in the business for 25 years, says he and other Wisconsin liquor store owners have a few tricks up their sleeves to keep customers coming to the Badger State: 5.5 percent state and local sales tax compared to 7.125 across the river; packaging deals like two-for-one sales that Minnesota can't match; and several Wisconsin-only wines and microbrews that have taken on mythic proportions among some consumers.
"Our numbers are down, but we are going to focus on products that will bring customers in," he said.
It doesn't take long to get to the four words that many believe will spell the difference: New Glarus Brewing Co., producer of the Cream Ale-style beer Spotted Cow, which is sold only in Wisconsin and coveted by drinkers in Minnesota.
At Northland Liquors next to Interstate 94, the New Glarus products are displayed prominently near the entrances. Working partner Vipul Patel also says business was down on Sunday but predicted Minnesotans will not be able to resist the lure.
"This will bring them all the way over here," he said, patting a stack of cases of beer.
Not everyone in Hudson saw a decline. Brian Siedschlag, general manager of Chicone's Liquor Mart, said there were plenty of Minnesota license plates in the parking lot on Sunday.
Unlike restrictions in Minnesota limiting Sunday hours from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Chicone's is open daily from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and that makes a difference for consumer buying patterns, Siedschlag said.
Taking inventory at the store, Ryan Kuphal, a sales representative for Allstate Liquor in Wisconsin, said it appears sales of wine and liquor actually increased in his territory in Wisconsin from the same period last year, particularly white wine sales. He said much of the Sunday sales in Minnesota were likely novelty buyers: "People who just wanted to say they were the first ones to buy beer on Sunday in Minnesota," he said.
Wisconsin has other vices to keep it attractive for out-of-staters.
Monday afternoon, brothers Travis and Tyler Heins and their wives, Kelsey and Nicole, were stocking up at Chicone's.
It was a convenient stop before making another Wisconsin purchase for the holiday.
"We're on our way to buy fireworks," Nicole Heins explained.