Local liquor sellers skeptical of Sunday prohibition’s end

Photo by Ryan Howard Wine and Roses in Forest Lake is taking a wait and see approach to the effects of the end of the Sunday liquor sales ban, but store owner Troy Osterbauer is skeptical that the expanded selling period will lead to more sales.
Photo by Ryan Howard
Wine and Roses in Forest Lake is taking a wait and see approach to the effects of the end of the Sunday liquor sales ban, but store owner Troy Osterbauer is skeptical that the expanded selling period will lead to more sales.

Minnesota is poised to leave the ranks of the 12 U.S. states that don’t allow off-sale liquor on Sundays, but many local liquor store owners aren’t happy about it.

Last week, the Minnesota Senate passed a bill that would allow Sunday sales, a measure already passed by the House and one that Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged not to forestall. If the governor gives final approval or refuses to veto the bill, liquor will be able to be sold on Sundays in the state starting this July.

Champions of the measure have been hailing it as a blow to an outdated, inconvenient bit of government regulation. However, The Times reached out to a number of local liquor store owners and managers, most of whom saw little upside in changing the law.

“We were strongly opposed to it,” said Duane Houle, the owner of Liquor Works, one of two liquor stores in Wyoming (along with Rick’s Liquor). “It was just one day that we were able to shut down.”

Houle doesn’t believe that being open on Sundays will lead to any appreciable increase in sales. Instead, he said, it will lead to more cost overhead – another day he has to pay employees and keep the lights on. It’s also inconvenient to him and to those who work there.

“Everyone who came here agreed to be here because, ‘Oh, you’re not open on Sundays,’” he said.

Troy Osterbauer, who owns Wine and Roses in Forest Lake, agreed that being open on Sundays would be more of an annoyance than a profit. Currently, he said, he uses Sundays as a kind of chore day at the store, taking time on the off-day to change signage, clean or rearrange the displays. If the store opens on Sundays, he said, he’ll have to do those jobs late at night or while serving customers on the side.

Why don’t these owners think that another day open will net them more customer visits?

“It’s just going to spread out the sales over another day,” Osterbauer said.

All of the liquor store owners and managers The Times spoke to said that since the ban has been on the books for so long, regular liquor store customers have grown used to planning ahead and buying the alcohol they need for Sunday on Friday or Saturday – or, as MGM Liquor manager Matt Malmquist remarked, “Minnesotans have been trained.”

“Honestly, it’s not going to give us any extra business,” County Line Liquor manager Michelle Murphy predicted. “The people that aren’t in the liquor business don’t really see the negatives for the small business owner.”

Of course, the law doesn’t force liquor stores to be open an extra day. However, most of the stores called by The Times confirmed that they would likely start opening on Sunday once the law goes into effect, out of fear of falling behind an enterprising competitor.

“If you’re familiar with how retail works, you’ll be forced to be open,” Houle said. “If you’re not open and your competitor is, you could lose a customer for life.”

Osterbauer said he’d like to experiment with not being open on Sundays, at least for a while. He said Wine and Roses would likely take a close look at what competitors were doing and gauge customer reaction before making the decision to open its doors seven days a week.

“Anyone that’s about 40 years or older seems to think that it’s kind of goofy to change it,” Osterbauer said, noting that the group has become accustomed to the cycle of liquor sales in the state.

“It’s the younger crowd who seems like they’re kind of excited by it. … They have the feeling that every desire they have should be at their whim 24/7, 365.”

Still, he said, responsiveness to customer desires is a cornerstone of Wine and Roses’ success.

“I work hard to listen to my customers and people who are in here who have things they’re looking for, and (I want to) treat them well when they are here and give them a positive experience in my store,” he said.

Malmquist said that due to the store’s location near Cub Foods, he thought MGM might pick up some impulse sales on Sunday based on proximity. He also acknowledged that, to a degree, supporters and detractors of the law change are having two different conversations, and he understands why customers think the sales prohibition is silly.

“If I was just a customer, if I wasn’t in this industry, (changing the law) makes sense,” he said.

However, he added, he still believes that for most stores, the effect of the law change will be negligible at best and detrimental at worst – especially because he, like the other managers and owners, believes the area is far enough away from Wisconsin that people hopping the border to get Sunday booze is rare.

“It will probably (negatively) affect some smaller mom-and-pop stores,” he predicted.

So besides customers’ convenience, who benefits from Sunday sales? Malmquist, Murphy and Houle believe grocery stores and big box liquor stores stand the most to gain. With sales on Sunday, Malmquist said, grocery shoppers no longer need to make an extra trip when they’re running errands, and Murphy and Houle believe that the law change could be the first step in allowing harder liquor to be sold in grocery stores, a move that would further take away their market share.

“Wouldn’t you like to get it while you’re picking up your Cream of Wheat and SpaghettiOs?” Houle said.

Murphy and Malmquist also cited industry shop talk speculating that one big reason in getting the law passed this year is so that liquor stores can sell on Super Bowl Sunday in 2018 to out-of-staters unfamiliar with local law – a change that will only benefit liquor stores closer to the Twin Cities metro, where the next Super Bowl will be held.

“It’s really not the case for us to be more happy about it,” Murphy said. “It’s just more overhead is all it is for us.”

  • Lauri

    I’d also like to add that the final bill ties our hands as to the hours we can be open. 11 a.m. is too late; kickoff during football season is noon – tailgating even earlier – and people are on the water or already into their commute to the water or wherever they will spend their day in the summer. Why not allow us to open earlier if we are to be open. Perhaps 8 or 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. would suffice.
    The lawmakers don’t understand any part of our business model. Why punish us further?

    • Jesse Lee

      You don’t have to open at all, its your business. Close up shop and take the day off like you normally would. The irony in complaining about too many gov’t regulations with the hours and then complaining there’s not enough gov’t regulations by allowing sales on Sundays now. laughable.

  • Jesse Lee

    Who says you have to be open? Close the doors then, what a bunch of cry-babies.

  • Jesse Lee

    Did they seriously use crying about Sunday liquor sales to insert this pot shot “It’s the younger crowd who seems like they’re kind of excited by it. … They have the feeling that every desire they have should be at their whim 24/7, 365.” All these owners are worried about is the loosening up of gov’t regulations with liquor sales equating to more competition for them. They are greedy, have a good thing going, and don’t want to risk anything but possibly having to compete with more stores being available now. Pot meet kettle