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Proposal would lift ban on Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota

Duluthians who run out of beer and want to grab a last-minute 12-pack before Sunday's Super Bowl have two choices: Head to Superior or go thirsty.

But State Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, wants to help. Reinert introduced legislation Wednesday that would allow Minnesota liquor stores to stay open on Sundays.

The bill would repeal what is among the last vestiges of Minnesota's "blue laws" that at one time kept stores, bars and other facilities closed on Sundays, ostensibly to keep people in church.

Minnesota is one of only 14 states that forbid retail liquor sales on Sundays, and its border states -- Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota -- all let liquor stores stay open on Sundays.

"Minnesota's current statutes prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays puts our state at a competitive and economic disadvantage, particularly in communities that border Wisconsin," Reinert said in announcing the bill. "Wisconsin already got a win with the Packers going to the Super Bowl, why give them another win with Minnesota tax dollars?"

Analysts for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States found that cross-border purchases by Minnesotans driving to Wisconsin account for about 3.1 percent of all Wisconsin liquor store sales. Allowing Minnesota stores to stay open would pump about $10.6 million into Minnesota's tax coffers annually, the council estimates.

"This bill is about the free market, giving both businesses and consumers a choice," Reinert said. "Stores could still choose to be closed on Sundays, and consumers could choose not to make a purchase. But let's allow for the choice.'"

Reinert introduced the same bill while serving in the House last year but it failed to advance, as it has many other years when introduced by other sponsors. But the increased tax revenue might look good to lawmakers struggling this year with a $6.4 billion shortfall for the 2012-2013 state budget.

"Bottom line is that no law would force anyone to open,'' said Ben Jenkins, the council's vice president. "It simply gives each business owner the individual choice to make a decision tailored for that specific market."

Jenkins said that Sunday has become the second busiest liquor shopping day for beer and booze nationwide and that overall liquor sales didn't just spread-out in states that allowed Sunday sales, but actually increased 5 to 7 percent.

Kyle Gallant of Duluth said the current situation is not a problem for him. Like other Minnesotans, he's accustomed to the Sunday rule and plans accordingly.

"And if I forget, I don't live that far from Superior,'' he noted.

Tanya Rabold of Duluth said she has mixed feelings on the issue. On one hand, she understands liquor store employees enjoying their day off. But on the other hand, she said, "I know how much business is driving to Superior that could be going here.''

Ellen McArthur, who owns Sportsmen's Liquor in West Duluth with her husband Rick, says she sees customers driving by her closed shop the way to Superior on Sundays and spending money that could be staying in Minnesota.

"We support (Reinert's bill). We're a neighborhood store and we see how much revenue is driving over the bridge," McArthur said. "We have Sunday softball tournaments (at Wheeler Field) and Sunday baseball games (at Wade Stadium) that would bring us a lot of business. ... And I don't know how much business we lost with Christmas on a Saturday this year, being closed two days in a row because of the Sunday rule. People just went to Superior."

While the national liquor lobby, represented by the Distilled Spirits Council, supports the change, many liquor store owners in Minnesota -- those who have the most to gain -- are against the legislation. Reinert may face an uphill battle with the powerful Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, the lobbying and trade group that represents liquor stores and bars, firmly against Sunday liquor sales.

Some say that changing the law could open a Pandora's Box of liquor issues, including allowing wine and liquor to be sold in grocery stores, which liquor stores fiercely oppose. Several Duluth liquor store managers and owners declined Wednesday to comment publicly regarding the legislation, but said privately they are opposed to the change.