No more special-interest spirits

It’s time to repeal Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales.

by Derek Olson

On a typical autumn Sunday, I turn on the TV and watch more hours of NFL previews, games and highlights than I care to admit. At some point during the first game, I open my refrigerator to complement my viewing experience with an adult beverage when, to my great dismay, I have none left. Wouldn’t it be great if I could make a quick trip to one of the multiple liquor stores within a mile from my house? Unfortunately, because of Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales, I have to drive all the way to Wisconsin. And I’ve done it — and more than once.

Efforts to repeal the Minnesota ban seem unlikely to materialize this year, according to Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, who has spent years advocating for Sunday liquor sales. Although Gov. Mark Dayton has affirmed that he would sign legislation to repeal the law, Reinert said last week that he didn’t have enough votes to bring it to Dayton’s desk.

Given that the original religious reasons for antiquated “blue laws” don’t pass the test of constitutionality, what rationale does such a prohibition have, anyway?

The truth is even more absurd than one would expect. The ban survives year after year because of lobbying from liquor stores who enjoy having their shops closed one day a week. It might be easy to empathize with these small-business owners at first, but what they’re doing is immoral.

Repeal of the ban would not force stores to open if they didn’t desire it. These shops would be well within their right to remain closed on Sundays whether or not the law forced them to, but they fear losing business to other stores who would choose to open on Sundays. With the ban in place, those shops that would prefer to close on Sundays can force their own will on competitors who wish to be open. It’s a classic case of a narrow special interest using political power to thwart the competition.

It’s quite possible that many of these liquor store owners hold inflated fears about having to open seven days a week. In the ultra-competitive restaurant industry, numerous restaurants close voluntarily on Mondays, the slowest day of the week. Repealing the Sunday sales ban would provide store owners the flexibility to open on Sundays, a much more profitable day in the retail industry, and let slow Mondays be their day off. What would be so bad about granting business owners the right to choose on which days they open their businesses?

We highly regulate alcohol because it presents public health and safety issues, but this regulation arguably threatens public safety. It’s perfectly legal to frequent the local bar on a Sunday and inebriate yourself, but the law prohibits purchasing alcohol for consumption at home that day. By relegating drinking activities to locations outside the home, the law may enable bar patrons to drive home after one too many touchdown-celebrating shots.

Lastly, concern for the consumer seems to be lost on this issue. It’s easy to argue that consumers like me can buy our cold ones in advance, but from time to time, I will forget. On those occasions, the law shouldn’t force the local liquor store to lose my business, the state of Minnesota to lose sales tax revenue and me to lose money on gas on a longer errand — or worse, watch football with Kool-Aid.