Op-ed: Sunday sales will mean less choice and less main street local retailers
By Tony Chesak, executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association
Alcohol regulations, particularly those relating to hours of sale on Sundays, have been an annual hot topic of discussion at the beginning of each legislative session in the media. This year is no different.
The details and rationale surrounding Minnesota’s current laws and regulations for alcohol—including Sunday hours of off-sale—are largely unknown to most Minnesotans, but changes to those laws have serious repercussions for small business, our communities, and our customers and consumers.
The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, which is the trade association for privately-owned, mostly small mom and pop liquor retailers, supports our state’s current alcohol regulations. They’re smart, balanced, and also supported by many citizens and many small businesses.
First, our state’s current alcohol regulations are smart and work well. Minnesotans presently enjoy unprecedented product availability and consumer choice, which includes a thriving craft brewing industry. Alcohol prices at the point-of-purchase are below the national average. In addition, compared to other states, we enjoy significantly lower than average rates of alcohol-related abuse and accidents.
Clearly, Minnesota is doing something right!
Second, Minnesota has a balanced and level playing field for all involved in the industry. Retail locations like liquor stores, bars, and restaurants are mostly small, family-owned businesses. Small businesses provide good jobs, pay taxes, and contribute to our economy and communities.
Because of our balanced alcohol policies and regulations, local small businesses can effectively compete with large, big box stores. We know that costs associated with the increased availability of alcohol and the hours and days it is available for purchase in stores are not offset by an increase in products sold. Sunday liquor sales would mean that six days of sales are simply spread out over every day of the week. Deregulation and increasing the hours and days of alcohol to be available for purchase is not cost effective for small businesses.
Is it possible for liquor stores to maintain their current net operating income with a Sunday sales scenario? I doubt it. This scenario sets up small, local businesses for failure. I don’t think that’s what Minnesotans want.
Minnesotans want to shop local—and we hope they want to support their local small businesses and liquor retailers. These are mostly family-owned and operated places. Loss of these retailers means job loss, and a change to our business culture.
Case in point: Total Wine, the large mega retailer based in Maryland, is spending thousands of dollars by hiring lobbyists to work at the state legislature advocating for Sunday sales, as they know it will crush the small, family-run liquor retailers in Minnesota.
The loss of local liquor stores—which happened in Colorado when they moved to Sunday sales with 127 stores closing—will mean less choice for consumers.
It means less choice in where consumers can shop for alcohol—because small, locally owned stores could close. It will also mean less choice in product, as those small liquor stores, who carry, promote, and support local Minnesota brewers and distributors—will be less in number. Mega retailers carry products that make the most financial margin and have they have national deals with. This whole scenario will likely mean higher prices for consumers because of less competition in retailers and products.
Last, alcohol is not a typical commodity. Society recognizes that certain products and commodities deserve special regulation under the law, much like prescription medicine and firearms are awarded regulations and special laws. Alcohol too is regulated, from its production to the point-of-sale, to the benefit of society.
Our current approach works well for Minnesota—it’s balanced and smart, and the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association hopes we keep it that way.