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Should Minnesota allow Sunday liquor sales? Local retailers have mixed thoughts

Since the days of prohibition, Minnesotans have been accustomed to buying their liquor six days out of the week. When it comes to Sundays, they have to plan ahead or go without.

In towns along the border, however, Sundays can mean lost revenue both for Minnesota liquor stores and the state budget, as buyers hop across the state line when they forget to stop at a local store earlier in the week.

A bill has been introduced in the state legislature that could, if passed, allow off-sale liquor stores to sell on Sundays. The bill would also allow liquor stores to sell on Thanksgiving Day and past 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve, both of which are currently prohibited. The bill does not attempt to lift the restriction preventing liquor stores from selling on Christmas Day.

This isn't the first time the issue has come up in the legislature, said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, but this time it's gotten a little more attention, primarily from constituents in Duluth and cities along the Wisconsin-Minnesota border.

In Hastings, Sunday liquor sales are lost to retailers just a few minutes away in Prescott.

"There's no question that we give up business to people going across the river," said Steve Lapprich, manager at the Hastings MGM Liquors.

Still, he has mixed emotions on the proposal, he said.

"It's nice to know you have that day off, but I hate giving up those sales to Wisconsin," he said.

Just north of Hastings and right along the route between Prescott and Hastings, Deb Finley, the manager at Point Liquor, isn't sure much would change if the restrictions were lifted.

"I can see it growing the business a little bit," she said, but not enough to make a huge impact.

The reason for that is habit, and a little bit of foresight.

"The majority (of customers) know the liquor store isn't going to be open (Sundays)," Finley said.

"The majority of my business comes on Fridays and Saturdays."

Many of Finley's customers are campers, she said, heading out of town for a weekend, and buying alcohol on the way back home isn't often a priority.

"I really don't think it's going to be that big of a deal," she said.

Lawmakers are seeing a cash flow slipping to another state.

"There's revenue we're not gaining in the state of Minnesota because people are buying liquor from Wisconsin on Sundays," McNamara said.

Sunday sales could bring in an additional $10 million in tax revenue. But not everyone is excited about the proposal.

"I've supported it in the past," McNamara said, "but I've had some folks come forward saying they don't necessarily like it."

The bill is meeting resistance from the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association (MLBA).

"We oppose Sunday sales," said MLBA executive director Frank Ball.

Part of the group's resistance is simply because it doesn't want small business owners to be forced by competition to work seven days a week.

"Many of these are husband and wife operations," he said. "Somebody's got to work Sundays."

The MLBA is also keeping an eye on the potential for a domino effect. The state already allows convenience stores and grocery stores to sell malt beverages with a low alcoholic content (3.2 percent by volume) on Sundays. Allowing liquor stores would disrupt the revenue stream from those products, Ball said. Sunday sales could also affect another proposal.

"That would generate enough activity to bring in the dreaded wine-in-grocery-stores (issue)," Ball said.

Should the bill pass, stores would still have the option of staying closed on Sundays, but Ball and Lapprich both said that local competition would likely push more business owners to open their doors, even if just for a single shift.

Despite the opportunity for higher sales, Lapprich won't be upset if the bill doesn't pass.

"Personally, I'm okay if it stays the way it is," he said.