Effort to Lift Ban on Sunday Liquor Sales Faces Stiff Opposition—From Liquor Store Owners

Though many Minnesotans would raise a glass to Sunday liquor sales, many liquor store owners are against lifting the ban.

A bill to lift the ban on Sunday liquor sales is making the rounds in St. Paul, but it faces resistance from an unlikely source: The majority of Minnesota liquor sellers are adamantly against it.  

Currently, Minnesota is one of 12 states that still ban liquor sales on Sunday. A bipartisan bill reintroduced in the Senate this week aims to repeal the long-standing ban of selling off-sale liquor on Sundays—and would allow liquor store owners the option of being open for business seven days a week. 

For liquor store Owner Jess Brar, however, the bill portends nothing but a ceaseless, grinding workweek.

"It's mom, dad, and me. I'm here every day, all day, and my only day off is Sunday," said Brar, proprietor of Redhawk Liquor, a small store in eastern Burnsville. "That's 80-plus hours a week already."

Brar said that the presumed profits from adding another sale day would be modest, at best. He predicted that selling on Sunday would merely spread out the business he gets now over seven days, rather than six.

But Jim Duerr, owner of Shakopee Wine Cellars, said the math doesn't add up and that more hours open equals more money.

"I 100 percent believe it would increase sales," he said. "Even if it’s the slowest day of the week, it’s still going to be enough to cover the expenses: Your cooler’s always running so basically all I have to do is turn the lights on and pay an employee."

Still, some larger sellers like Theodore Farrell, vice president of Haskell's, one of the largest Minnesota chains, have taken a stand against the bill.

"You incur one more day worth of operations, of direct and indirect costs," said Farrell, who agreed that one more day of sales would not necessarily increase profits. "We talked to several other retailers in states that had repealed their blue laws, and they said that the first few months were terrific but sales dropped off after that."

If passed, the bill would effectively force all liquor retailers to stay open on Sunday, even if they didn't wish to, Farrell said.

"People always make the 'free market' argument. But if you're not open on Sunday, then you lose business to your competitor down the street," Farrell said. "The free market doesn't apply to liquor stores anyway. It's a hangover from prohibition that we're still more regulated than securities and exchange: We're regulated at the city, state and federal level, and each have different tiers of regulation and influence on the industry."

According to Frank Ball, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, Brar and Farrell are not alone. The MLBA represents 3,500 liquor sellers in the state.

"That's a widely held view. It is cost prohibitive to do that," said Ball, who added that the MLBA also opposes the bill.  

"We don't care for the erosion of regulation. It's a slippery slope: Why not have 24-7 liquor everywhere then?" Ball continued. "If it's all about making money, that's one thing, but we're thinking of the greater good out in rural Minnesota. These are family stores and they don't want to work seven days a week."

The majority of Minnesotans say they would welcome Sunday liquor sales, however. Last June, 59 percent of Minnesotans polled by Public Policy Polling said they are in favor of the proposal.

The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee. If the Senate Commerce Committee Chair decides to hear the bill it will continue to move along in the political process; if not, the bill is likely to die before making it to the floor for discussion.


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