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Beverage Association president: Minnesotans, beware of Sunday liquor sales

ROGERS, Minn.—Recently, we've heard commentary from legislative leaders such as Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt pushing for deregulation of the liquor industry in Minnesota and authorizing Sunday liquor sales.

This is a step in the wrong direction that would hurt consumers and communities across the state.

It's important to remember that alcohol is not a typical commodity. It isn't like a box of Cheerios or a bottle of Gatorade. It requires special regulation in order to ensure public safety.

Deregulation, including authorizing Sunday sales, is a move that would lead toward reduced choices for consumers and the tilting of the playing field toward big-box retailers. We want the public to understand the real consequences to consumers and communities.

Our current alcohol laws in Minnesota bring choice to consumers. Minnesotans enjoy unprecedented product availability and consumer choice, which includes a thriving craft brewing industry. Alcohol prices at the point-of-purchase are below the national average.

Moving toward deregulation, like other states have done, would hurt consumer choice and availability. For instance, after Colorado passed Sunday sales in 2008, the state saw a reduction in the number of liquor stores from 1,679 stores in 2007 to 1,552 in 2013, a loss of 127 businesses.

Our current alcohol laws also promote fair competition. Because of our current balanced alcohol policies and regulations, these businesses and municipal liquor stores can effectively compete with large, out-of-state big box stores. But when Sunday sales are allowed, the costs associated with increased availability of alcohol and hours available are not offset by an increase in products sold.

These stores have made their economic decisions based on current laws. It's not right to change the rules on them.

Municipal stores have been able to compete in our current market. For instance, off-sale municipal liquor operations (municipal liquor stores) have geographic exclusivity but not competitive exclusivity. This competition has caused municipal liquor operations to become more business savvy—with the goal of encouraging customers to buy at the municipal liquor operation instead of elsewhere.

Within Minnesota, there are 201 cities with off-sale or on-sale/off-sale combinations (a municipal bar with a municipal liquor store), operating 242 facilities. Sales range from about $120,000 to more than $14 million per year.

Total annual sales are about $300 million with total annual profits of $20 million. The profits are used by cities for general fund activities or special projects including recreational programs, public safety equipment, and transportation for elderly adults.

In other words, municipal liquor stores help to pay for critical city priorities without having to increase the property tax burden on local residents.

Municipal liquor stores have a positive impact on our communities. If Herald readers enjoy a lower property tax burden and appreciate improvements to the health of your community, I urge them to buy local, shop at their local municipal liquor store and oppose deregulation of the liquor industry in Minnesota.

Buysse, manager of the Rogers Liquor Store, is president of the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association.