Weather Forecast


Area liquor stores likely would not benefit from Sunday sales

Menahga's municipal liquor store, Northbound Spirits, has used profits to renovate the on sale and off sale check out area at the store. (Anna Erickson / Enterprise)

While some liquor stores in Minnesota border cities are pushing for Sunday alcohol sales, stores in central Minnesota could lose money if such a measure passed.

Rapids Spirits manager Scott Olson said Park Rapids would likely see the same business spread over seven days instead of six if the state passed a measure for selling liquor on Sunday. He thinks other cities in central Minnesota would be in the same boat.

"It would probably cost us more money having to be open another day," Olson said.

Menahga's Northbound Spirits manager Tom Gerszewski agreed that being open on Sundays would likely cost more money for the municipal liquor store.

Stores would not be required to be open on Sundays but many would be open depending on competition in neighboring cities.

"People have been planning ahead and buying alcohol on Fridays or Saturdays for years," Gerszewski said.

Olson said talks about Sunday liquor have been held for years at the state level and he thinks this year the Legislature has more important items to tackle.

"I would be hard pressed to say this would pass this year," he said.

Area liquor stores have seen profits each year and those could be reduced if this measure passed.

According to data from a recently released comparison of municipal liquor store operations, Park Rapids saw a net profit of $238,124 in 2009; Menahga saw $55,941 in profit, Nevis saw $24,148 in profit and Akeley saw $6,928 in profit.

Profits have allowed for expansion and renovation in some area liquor stores, including Menahga, which recently completed a remodeling project to separate the on and off sale sections of the store and add an office.

Some liquor stores in border cities are pushing for the Sunday liquor measure because managers say they are losing business to cities across the border.

The manager of a liquor store in Tower told a Senate Commerce Committee that he has turned away more than a thousand people in the past year because of the law.

But the Senate committee hearing showed that not all liquor store owners want the so-called "blue law" changed, with some saying an extra day of being open would add to their costs.

The committee voted 8-7 to send the bill authored by Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, to the Senate Finance Committee. The full Senate could vote on the measure later this spring if the Finance Committee approves it.

A similar House bill has not received a committee hearing.

Reinert's bill would overturn decades of tradition that liquor stores must be closed on Sundays, although bars may be open. While his bill originally would have continued to require them to close on Christmas, that was amended out of the measure, so a store could be open every day.

"My motivation is freedom in the marketplace," Reinert said.

The senator has helped a Duluth liquor store owner and watched many from his area drive over bridges to buy liquor in Superior, Wis., on Sundays. That prompted him to offer the bill.

Liquor store operators testifying to the committee split on the issue.

"The present liquor law is archaic," declared John Wolf, owner of a south Minneapolis store.

Manager Candice Woods of Hutchinson Municipal Liquor, however, joined others in saying that opening an extra day would only spread the same business over seven days. In her case, that would cost $60,000 a year, she said, which would mean less money Hutchinson would receive in a time when the city needs more revenue.

Liquor stores in nearby communities such as Willmar and St. Cloud would steal her customers if she did not open on Sundays, Woods told the committee.

Reinert suggested that liquor stores could close on a day other than Sunday if business were slower then. There is nothing in his bill to require a store to open on Sundays.

President August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists said he supports the bill because Sunday was set aside as a Christian day off and no law should favor religion. Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council, however, said Minnesotans need a day of rest.

Tom Hanson, a former state finance commissioner, represented the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and said all neighboring states allow Sunday liquor sales and they serve "the same type of people, same types of values."

Hanson said the state could get up to $10 million a year more in taxes from extra sales made on Sundays, although bill opponents said that is far too high a figure.

Rick Anderson of a Minneapolis liquor store said that if "there is some sort of beer emergency on a Sunday," those involved always could go to a bar.

The next committee hearing is not scheduled, but Reinert does not expect it for several weeks. The bill's future in uncertain, something underscored by the close committee vote.

"Now, we start again," Reinert said.

Don Davis, who writes for Forum Communications Co., contributed to this report.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561