One more round: Business owners not sold on Sunday liquor sales

Published 10:18 am Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dave Olson, owner of Apollo Liquor, is one of many who oppose lifting the Sunday liquor ban that the Minnesota Legislature is considering.  Eric Johnson/

Dave Olson, owner of Apollo Liquor, is one of many who oppose lifting the Sunday liquor ban that the Minnesota Legislature is considering.
Eric Johnson/

By Josephine Bungert

For local leaders and business owners, lawmakers’ push to lift the ban on Sunday liquor sales is a mixed drink — and not everyone sees it as a good one.

Almost a full year after discussion of lifting the ban on liquor sales on Sundays, the Minnesota Legislature is bringing the idea back to the floor. Lawmakers hoping to lift the state’s decades-old law that forces liquor stores to be closed on Sunday are introducing a range of compromises that would soften the ban, as well as the option to fully repeal it.

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For business owners like Dave Olson of Austin’s Apollo Liquor, staying open on Sunday may not boost profits enough to absorb the costs of another day’s business.

“We’ll spread six days of business out over seven days. … We don’t want to [do] that,” Olson said. “It would increase my costs and decrease our profitability by being open a seventh day.”

Olson, who opposes the ban, also thinks that because Minnesota has had this ban for so long that it is routine.

“I guess it’s been along like this for quite a long time, and I think most people grab an extra bottle for Sunday,” Olson said. “If they need one, they grab one. They don’t run down and get a beer every day of the week. I think everybody in Minnesota sort of plans for it and it’s not a big deal.”

State Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, said the discussion is open, but not necessarily a main concern.

“It’s not a top priority, but it is something people are more inclined to [want to] see that go away,” Poppe said.

Poppe thinks the momentum for adjusting this ban is not there at this time.

“I don’t know if there is enough of a groundswell of the public to say we would like to see a change or not,” Poppe said.

Poppe said that she doesn’t know how important this is to the community, and therefore isn’t sure where she would stand.

“I guess I’ve previously been opposed to it, but I would like to hear from people; I would like to know if it was a priority.”

Dennis Schminke, Republican candidate for Poppe’s seat, said the issue should be a low priority this session, but he generally feels the less government regulation there is, the better.

“Maybe it would be good to lift [the regulation] and let the individual owners decide,” he said. “I feel the majority of the people in Minnesota want it [lifted]. I know a lot of owners don’t want to be open on Sundays. I get that, too, but it’s kind of for them to decide.”

If the Sunday liquor ban is lifted, Olson said he may have to follow his competitors’ lead regardless of his opinions.

“I wouldn’t plan on being [open], but then again if Walmart stays open on a Sunday and Hy-Vee stays open on a Sunday, you don’t want your customers going to shop somewhere else, so I would be open on Sunday,” Olson said. “It would be something you would have to do to keep your customers happy. I would be stupid not to be open on Sundays.”

In addition, Olson doesn’t see the problem with alcohol sales in the days people can buy it.

“One problem they’re talking about is Sunday liquor sales being over on the river in Wisconsin; they say we are losing 2 or 3 percent leakage to Wisconsin, and that’s basically a price problem not a being open on Sunday problem,” Olson said.

Though the ban has grown increasingly unpopular with Minnesota consumers, it has proven tough to repeal. The powerful Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association opposes lifting the ban, and over several years the group has successfully encouraged liquor store owners around the state to lobby their legislators against changes. But critics of the ban have also grown more organized in recent months, and got a boost recently when Gov. Mark Dayton said he’d sign a repeal bill.

“Eventually, we believe this ban will go away entirely,” said Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth. “But to get us closer, we’re offering a variety of options from which legislators can choose.”

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.