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March Mania

Editorial: Lift Minnesota's Sunday liquor-sale ban

Originally, it was a law to honor religious observance. Now, it's pure protectionism, guarding some lucky businesses against competition.

And for Minnesota's law barring Sunday liquor sales, that's no longer reason enough.

The fact that both houses of the Minnesota Legislature now have Republican majorities means 2017 could be the year the Sunday liquor-sale ban get overturned. Good: The ban is a relic, one whose costs—Minnesota consumers' frustration, border-town liquor stores suffering lost sales, $10 million a year in lost tax revenue—have long since outweighed the benefits to certain stores.

Those stores would be some—not all—of the stores that make up the membership of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage and Minnesota Municipal Beverage associations. In the past, the associations have lobbied strongly to keep the law; and on the MMBA's website, a column by the manager of the Edina, Minn., municipal liquor store explains why.

The fear is that while some liquor stores would face the additional costs of staying open an extra day, they wouldn't get that money back in new revenue, Scott Neal writes.

Of course, the situation in border towns is different, because customers there travel on Sundays to North Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin. All three are among the 38 states that allow Sunday liquor sales.

So, "if I owned a liquor store in Stillwater, Winona or Moorhead, I am sure that I'd see this situation differently," Neal notes.

"But I don't. ... I could be missing something here, but in the end, here's how I boil it (overturning the ban) down: good for consumers, but bad for business."

Neal's words show why the ban has outlived its usefulness.

First, the ban is good for not all businesses, but only some—namely, liquor stores in Neal's circumstances. The ban hurts liquor stores in other circumstances, such as those in Minnesota's border towns, as Neal admits.

Second, the ban hurts consumers, as Neal also admits. And protecting privileged businesses at consumers' expense is not a proper function of Minnesota government.

Minnesotans agree, by the way. Asked in a 2015 survey whether they favored Sunday liquor sales, 67 percent of Minnesotans said yes while only 24 percent said no.

Like other "blue laws," the 1930s-era ban was meant to honor Sunday as a religious day of rest. And Neal's column makes no mention of this fact.

Of course, that's because Americans stopped resting and started shopping on Sundays decades ago. These days, Sunday is the second-biggest shopping day of the week.

Clearly, other retailers have adjusted to Sunday sales. Liquor sellers can, too.

"Give consumers the convenience they want, and give liquor stores the choice to compete seven days a week or not, just like other retailers," said Quinn Olson, owner of Depot Wine and Spirits in Winger, Minn., in November in a Grand Forks Herald op-ed. Olson's advice makes perfect sense, and the Minnesota Legislature should comply.