St. Croix Valley businesses consider possible impact of Sunday liquor sales bill

St. Croix Valley residents on the Minnesota side of the river may be able to fill up their Fourth of July coolers this year with liquor purchased in their home state on Sunday, July 1. A bill moving through the state Legislature would allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays, and many residents are hopeful that the Legislature will repeal the liquor “blue laws” this session.

The Sunday liquor sales bill, known formally as House File 30, would remove previous restrictions on the sale of beer, wine and hard liquor on Sundays.

“From our sources, they have all the votes they need to get it passed, so we are preparing like it is already going to happen,” said Beau Farrell, vice president of e-commerce and marketing for Haskell’s, during a visit to the Stillwater location.

For liquor store owners, the move to allow Sundays sales could have positive and negative outcomes, and Farrell didn’t pick a side when asked if he is for or against the change. Other Stillwater liquor store representatives declined to comment on the record or could not be reached for comment.

“Alcohol is a controlled substance and the state of Minnesota controls when we can be open and when we can be closed,” Farrell said. “So we will do exactly what the state tells us. It’s kind of a middle ground answer.”

Minnesota is one of a dozen states that have restriction of the sales of alcohol on Sundays. In recent year, Minnesota has slowly repealed laws related to the manufacture and sale of beer and spirits. In 2015, a bill to allow for off-sale liquor sales failed to pass in the Senate. However, the Legislature did expand sales of beer at brewery taprooms to Sundays.

“We have a lot of contemporaries in other states that have gone through the traditional ‘blue law’ of being closed on Sunday being repealed,” Farrell said. “They have said eventually — in three to five years — Sunday becomes your third or fourth busiest day.”

Farrell, however, doesn’t believe adding Sunday sales will increase overall sale of liquor, beer or wine.

“I find it hard to believe that the population of people in Minnesota are going to drink more because they have an extra day to buy it,” Farrell said. “It will just spread the business over seven days.”

As of Feb. 8, the language of the House bill would limit Sunday liquor sales to between the hours of 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and would not allow liquor deliveries to liquor retailers to take place on Sundays.

“Minnesota’s laws are going to be kind of weird in that hours are going to be limited and that you can’t deliver on Sundays,” Farrell said. “It will cause us to plan more and maybe build a bigger budget for our stores because we have to figure in these two days when our distributors are going to be closed.”

Sunday liquor sales have been allowed in Wisconsin since 1874, only stopping the sale of liquor during Prohibition. In border cities like Stillwater, residents of Minnesota cross state lines to purchase alcohol on Sundays. Al Severson owns B and L Liquor in Houlton, Wis., and said the change to Minnesota’s liquor laws will affect his small business.

“Quite a few of our customers come from Minnesota,” Severson said. “Sunday is one of our busiest days.”

Severson said that if customers from Minnesota decide to shop for their Sunday liquor in Minnesota, he will have to change his business hours.

“I will probably have to shorten hours,” Severson said. “But who know what is going to happen in the future. In business you have to always be ready for change.”

The issue of Sunday liquor sales is not one that comes to the forefront, said Senator Karin Housley (R-St. Mary’s Point).

“I have only received one email about Sunday liquor sales,” Housley said. “During the election, I heard from voters that they are concerned about healthcare costs, transportation, education — Sunday liquor sales was not a top priority among voters.”

When the issue last came before the Senate, Housley said she heard from liquor store owners that the change would affect business.

“The stores most impacted by the change would be the smaller ‘Mom and Pop’ liquor stores,” Housley said.

Increased costs in staffing are a concern for Minnesota liquor stores, Farrell said.

“It’s going to be an incurred payroll expense for us, for sure,” Farrell said. “But in the long run it is a convenience issue for the consumer. It will be an increased cost for us to absorb.”

The off-sale Sunday liquor sales bill was adopted by the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee Jan. 17 and has been placed in the House of Representatives’ General Register to wait for a vote. Currently, there is not a companion bill in the Senate.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]