Editorial: Update Sunday liquor-sales laws

Published 9:18 am Friday, April 1, 2011

Run out of beer on a Sunday and what do some Duluthians do? They jump into their cars and motor across a bridge to a liquor store in Superior for more, hoping the few they’ve had weren’t a few too many.

That potentially tragic scenario is an unfortunate reality that plays out more regularly than many of us would care to think about, and not only in Duluth, but in all Minnesota border communities.

It’s only one of many good reasons to allow Gopher State liquor sellers to be open on Sundays — just like liquor sellers in every neighboring state and province. Minnesota is an island when it comes to selling on Sundays, a money-losing island stuck in 1858, when Sunday sales first were prohibited. Most other states, 36 in all, have realized the world is a far different place now than it was more than 150 years ago.

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“Sunday liquor-sale laws are remnants of a bygone era that no longer make sense in a 21st-century world,” state Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth said in a recent statement.

Such measures typically don’t go anywhere. But this time there seems to be momentum. Reinert’s bill was recently the subject of a hearing, after which it cleared the Senate Commerce Committee.

“This is a historic day,” Reinert bubbled. “I’ve been told by veteran legislators that this issue has never even been heard in a Minnesota Senate committee. I’m pleased we were able to find bipartisan support for this proposal. This bill is good for business, good for consumers, and good for our state.”

How good? Minnesota may be missing out on an estimated $10.6 million a year in tax revenue as state residents driving to Wisconsin account for about 3.1 percent of Wisconsin’s taxed liquor sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

A majority of Minnesotans agree with Reinert. Nearly 70 percent of respondents to a poll conducted by the Minnesota Legislature during the 2010 Minnesota State Fair favored doing away with the Sunday-sales prohibition.

Who doesn’t agree? Teamsters, eager to protect their Sundays off, and the owners of smaller liquor outlets, who worry sales won’t offset the costs of being open, make for a powerful lobby.

But is the fear of poor Sunday sales realistic? Shoppers tend to spend more on Sundays, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States found in conducting its research. And in the 35- to 54-year-old demographic, which accounts for nearly half of distilled-spirits consumers, Sunday is the second-busiest grocery shopping day of the week.

Others worry passage of Reinert’s measure could lead to wine sales by grocers, taking untold business from liquor stores. But where’s the evidence to even suggest one could lead to the other?

“Minnesota’s current statutes prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays puts our state at a competitive and economic disadvantage — particularly in communities (like Duluth) that border Wisconsin,” Sen. Reinert said. “Wisconsin already got a win with the Packers going to the Super Bowl. Why give them another win with Minnesota tax dollars?”

— Duluth News Tribune, March 28