Sunday liquor sales falter; whiskey maker wants law changed

Reinert

By Don Davis

Minnesotans must loudly demand that lawmakers approve Sunday alcohol sales if the proposal has a chance to pass, its Senate sponsor says.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said the House is not going to consider a Sunday sales bill this year, so he will not pursue it unless the public raises a ruckus about the issue.

“I’m to the edge of my ability to do something,” the senator said.

He added that he learned his lesson two years ago when he got the bill to allow liquor stores to be open on Sundays and holidays through a Senate committee, but it died when the House would not take action.

The Senate Commerce Committee heard Reinert’s bill Monday, but did not take action on it or most other liquor proposals it heard.

The panel also heard from an Osakis whiskey distillery owner who asked that some state laws be changed so his business could grow. Also, small beer brewers sought to increase the state limit on how many barrels they could produce a year and still receive a state tax credit.

Reinert said Sunday sales supporters need to organize if his bill has a chance. He suggested an email campaign and perhaps a Capitol rally in support of the measure.

“The average Minnesotan thinks this is a no-brainer,” Reinert said.

Representatives of many liquor stores said they could be forced to open on Sundays if the law passes.

Maryann Campo said her family has been involved in a Twin Cities liquor store since 1975.

“We don’t feel it is financially feasible to do,” she said of being open Sundays.

The Teamsters union, which represents many liquor store workers, expressed its strong opposition to working Sundays.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he fears small-town liquor stores would be especially threatened if a Sunday sales law is passed. “A lot of them are barely making it.”

But Reinert rebutted: “You don’t have to” open on Sundays.

If liquor store management likes things they way they are, he added, they need to make no changes.

Jason Alvey of Twin Cities’ liquor store The Four Firkins said his customers want Sunday openings. He said “impulse purchases” would increase if people could buy on Sundays.

Besides, he added, it is not fair to ban a business from opening. “Imagine how upset Target would be if you told them they could not be open on Sunday.”

While the bill has little chance this year, it will be considered along with other proposals when Commerce Committee Chairman Jim Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, puts together an overall liquor bill.

Three of the proposals would give micro-whiskey distillers the same rights as wineries: allow sampling at end of tours, sell one drink at the end of a tour and sell one bottle of whiskey.

Adrian Panther, who recently opened Panther Distillery in Osakis, told senators that if the laws were changed, he could double his six-person staff and add another building.

“Minnesota has a rich history of illegal moonshining, so I decided to build the first legal (micro) distillery,” he said.

Panther emphasized the job creation of the distillery business and he said he buys most items, including barrels, in Minnesota. He told the committee he spent more than $1 million to begin the company.

Alcohol wholesalers testified they oppose the Panther initiatives.

Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, offered a proposal that would increase from 100,000 barrels a year to 250,000 the size of beer brewer eligible for state tax credits.

Also, Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, introduced a bill to allow liquor sales during next year’s Super Bowl game, Feb. 2.

Panther, with Ingebrigtsen

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