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Our View: Let Minnesotans buy beer, wine on Sundays

Mark Castleman of Duluth signs a receipt to make a purchase from the Keyport Liquor Outlet in Superior. (2002 file / News Tribune)

Run out of beer on a Sunday and what do too many Duluthians do? They jump into their cars and motor across a bridge to a liquor store in Superior for more, hoping the few they’ve already had weren’t a few too many.

That potentially tragic scenario is an unfortunate reality that plays out more regularly than many of us would care to think about, and not only in Duluth, but in all Minnesota border communities.

It’s only one of the good reasons to allow Gopher State liquor sellers to be open on Sundays — just like liquor sellers in every neighboring state and province.

Minnesota is an island when it comes to not selling on Sundays — a money-losing island stuck in 1858, when Sunday sales first were prohibited. Most other states, 38 in all, have realized the world is a far different place now than it was more than 150 years ago.

“Minnesota is one of a dirty dozen,” Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, told the News Tribune Opinion page last week.

As in past sessions, Reinert is a sponsor this year of a bill to change that. His sensible, why-has-it-taken-this-long measure finally would allow Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota.

Such measures haven’t gone anywhere in the past, despite that “more than 80 percent of Minnesotans want to see this,” as Reinert has noted. In a survey done at this past year’s Minnesota State Fair, 64 percent favored allowing Sunday sales.

Minnesota may be missing out on as much as $10.6 million a year in tax revenue with its liquor stores closed Sundays, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

So who doesn’t agree with allowing Sunday sales? Teamsters, eager to protect their Sundays off, and the owners of smaller liquor outlets, who worry sales wouldn’t offset the costs of being open, make for a mighty powerful lobby every year in St. Paul.

But is the fear of poor Sunday sales realistic? Shoppers tend to spend more on Sundays, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States found in conducting its research. And in the 35- to 54-year-old demographic, which accounts for nearly half of distilled-spirits consumers, Sunday is the second-busiest grocery shopping day of the week.

Others worry passage of Reinert’s measure could lead to wine sales by grocers, taking untold business from liquor stores. But where’s evidence to even suggest one could lead to the other?

“This bill is about the free market, giving both businesses and consumers a choice,” Reinert said in 2011. “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. Minnesota’s current statutes prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays puts our state at a competitive and economic disadvantage — particularly in communities (like Duluth) that border Wisconsin.”

A century and a half ago, popping over to Superior from Duluth was unheard of. It’s a simple drive now because the world is a far different place. And that’s only one more of the good reasons to allow Minnesota liquor sellers to be open on Sundays.