Liquor stores brace for change

Managing Editor


by Jim Boyle
For 16 years, Ann Quinn’s routine as the owner of P&A Liquor in Zimmerman on Sundays has included a hearty breakfast and a trip into her store to place the beer order for the week. Other times she slid in after coming home from the cabin.
“Then I would go home for the rest of the day, which is the way it should be on Sundays,” Quinn said. “It used to be most things were closed (on Sundays). People went to church and spent the day together as a family. I still think it should be that way.”
Others feel differently, and Minnesota’s 159-year-old ban on Sunday liquor sales appears ready to fall. One week after the Minnesota House of Representatives voted 85-45 to end the ban on Sunday liquor sales, the Minnesota Senate followed suit in a 38-28 vote to do the same.
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said the support for the bill among constituents was so strong that the Senate majority leader, who opposed the measure, put it up for a vote anyway.
“(The ban) seemed more and more antiquated, like a prohibition-style law,” Kiffmeyer said Thursday, March 2, from the Senate floor.
Her vote made it a clean sweep of Elk River and Otsego lawmakers to support ending the ban. She voted yes with her Senate colleagues while Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, and Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, voted yes to the House version of the bill.
The two bills still need to be massaged into one in a conference committee, but that’s expected to happen without a hitch, and Gov. Mark Dayton has already said he will sign legislation to end the ban if it reaches his desk.
“We knew it was coming at some point,” said Dave Potvin, the general manager of the Elk River municipal liquor stores.
Support has been mounting for some time. A 2015 survey showed 67 percent of Minnesotans favored Sunday liquor sales, while only 24 percent were opposed.
The ban was first meant to honor Sunday as a religious day of rest. Sunday is now the second-biggest shopping day of the week.
Potvin says he plans to open his stores seven days a week when the new law goes into effect as early as this summer, but he’s not expecting to see his sales figures go up.
“We think it will spread six days of sales over seven days — and add to our costs,” he said. “It won’t hurt us like mom-and-pop shops, but we don’t foresee making more because we’re open another day.”
Potvin said he wasn’t a proponent of the change, and he argued that alcohol warranted different treatment than other commodities.
“(Liquor) is not a loaf of bread,” he said. “It’s just not the same thing.”
Potvin runs two municipal liquor stores: Westbound on Highway 10 and Northbound on Highway 169.
“We’ll do our best to keep our customers happy and do our best to benefit the citizens of Elk River. Who knows, maybe we will see an increase in sales (because of the seventh day), but I suspect not.”
Potvin has been able to able to transfer more than $685,000 to the city’s general fund each of the last three years based on store profits.
In Zimmerman there are three smaller, privately run stores whose ownership will have to decide whether to open on Sunday.
Quinn is thinking more and more about retirement.
Margaret Genung, of Uptown Off-Sale in Zimmerman, said she will be open on Sundays even though she expects to lose money on the proposition.
“You have to be there for customers, whether you like the (change) or not,” she said.
Genung figures she will be dividing up Friday and Saturday sales over three days.
“I hope it won’t affect prices, but the reality is the money to pay for increased cost has to come from somewhere.”
Doug Andrews, an owner of the Napa Valley Liquors in Otsego, said he will embrace the change. He said his staff prides itself on customer service and being that bottle shop that says if you want a certain product we don’t have, we’ll go out and get it and stock it.
“We have built a loyal local base of customers, and if they want to shop on Sundays, we will be here for them,” he said. “We’ll have to get creative and figure how to offer the best shopping experience.”
Andrews does, however, feel bad for some of his employees who have full-time jobs and are working part time at his store.
“Now they will have to work a little more,” he said.
The Otsego liquor market is robust and has four significant offerings all within a mile of each other. Napa, Riverview Liquorette, Pour and Target share the market with one another and beyond.
Quinn said people have created their own little monster.
“Everybody wants all of these instantaneous shopping opportunities, but no one wants to work these shifts,” he said.