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Lawmakers introduce bills on Minnesota Sunday liquor sales

Minnesota legislators are preparing to debate repealing the ban on Sunday liquor sales in the state. Again. The Minnesota legislative session that began last week has already seen the introduction of multiple bills to repeal or otherwise loosen t...

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Ryan Swanberg waits for customers on Tuesday, Jan 13, 2015, at Pop's Liquor in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

Minnesota legislators are preparing to debate repealing the ban on Sunday liquor sales in the state. Again.

The Minnesota legislative session that began last week has already seen the introduction of multiple bills to repeal or otherwise loosen the state's 80-year-old ban. The seemingly annual debate is especially relevant in border communities like East Grand Forks, where residents don't have to go far to find legal liquor.

"People come here on Sundays and would like it if the liquor store could be open," said Jeff Baldock, an owner of Pop's Liquor in East Grand Forks, which is attached to the gas station Eastside Express. "Others, they can't buy here so they go over to North Dakota."

Whether this session brings an end to the Sunday ban is unclear. The new Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt has said he'd support the repeal, and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said he'd sign the law if it reached his desk.

Legislators in the northwestern part of the state said this week that there hasn't been much debate over the ban so far at the Capitol. State Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, who's also the majority whip, said he's opposed to repealing it, and that he's focused on other issues.

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"I just don't support it," he said, citing concerns raised by government-managed municipal liquor store operators that city budgets could be affected, and that worker shortages in the area could make it hard to staff the stores. State Rep. and assistant majority leader Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said she's neutral on the issue.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Ben Lien, DFL-Moorhead, is the co-sponsor of a bill to repeal the ban.

"I think it would be good for my district," he said. "I know I've heard from liquor stores in my district that do support this, as well as constituents."

"To me, this isn't so much of an issue of competition, as it is lost opportunity," Lien added.

Getting on board

Minnesota is one of 12 states that don't allow liquor sales on Sundays. Lawmakers have launched efforts in the past to repeal the law, but have met opposition, including from municipal liquor stores.

"They help them keep local property taxes down," Fabian said. Some northwest Minnesota cities, including Thief River Falls and Bemidji, have city-run liquor stores.

In an email, Thief River Falls City Administrator Larry Kruse said its liquor store transferred about $360,000 to the city's general fund during its latest budget cycle. He raised concerns that six days worth of sales would be spread out over seven days.

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"A law change would result in less of a revenue transfer and (an) increase in property taxes," he said.

Groups like the Minnesota Municipal Beverage Association and Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association oppose opening Sunday up for liquor sales.

Andrew Schmitt, director of the Minnesota Beer Activists, which advocates for Sunday liquor sales, said municipal liquor stores could choose to close on Sundays even if the ban is lifted, and that they could benefit as much as the private sellers.

Schmitt said the efforts to remove the ban on Sunday liquor sales are as much about consumer freedom as it is about benefitting retailers.

"We've got working moms and dads who are trying to raise families, and stocking up on beer and wine and liquor isn't a priority," he said. "So when it comes time to relax, you're inconvenienced, and there you are bringing money into Hudson, Wis., or across any other border."

Barry Wilfahrt, president and CEO of the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, said his organization hasn't taken a stance on the issue of Sunday liquor sales. He did say the chamber supports "anything from a regulatory point of view that levels the playing field between (North Dakota and Minnesota)."

"So generally speaking, we would be supportive of that initiative," he said in a voice mail.

Some polls have supported the ban's repeal, as has the state's largest newspaper, the Star Tribune, in a December editorial.

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Still, it is unclear whether that will translate into a policy change. The repeal fell by a 42-22 margin in the state Senate last year.

"As we move forward, I think we'll see more and more legislators get on board," Schmitt said.

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Ryan Swanberg helps a customer on Tuesday, Jan 13, 2015, at Pop's Liquor in East Grand Forks, Minn. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

Related Topics: BARRY WILFAHRT
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