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Debate on Sunday liquor sales to get 'crafty'

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MPR News reports the perennial debate about Sunday liquor sales will be back in 2014. This time, the advocates of Sunday sales are joined by a growing force in Minnesota: the craft beer industry.

"We see that it works in every state that surrounds Minnesota," said Minnesota Beer Activists founder Andrew Schmitt. "It's just time to make Minnesota part of the rest of the nation."

MBA cites a poll that shows 62 percent of Minnesota consumers support a change, and the support is bipartisan.

"It's going to come down to whether legislators want to listen to constituents or listen to lobbyists," Schmitt said. Opponents "put a lot of the money into this system, the challenge is going to be seeing whether we can overcome that."

BringMeTheNews reported a Sunday sales bill was overwhelmingly defeated in the House last May. The strongest opposition came, as always, from liquor store owners themselves — specifically, owners of smaller independent stores. Mom and pop stores would feel compelled to open on Sundays to keep up with their chain store competitors, but Sunday revenue would be unlikely to cover their overhead costs, and simply spread six days of sales across seven.

The Star Tribune  reported last session that Sunday sales bills are always defeated by an influential coalition at the Legislature – liquor store owners, Teamsters and liquor industry lobbyists.

Some Minnesota independents don't want to rock that boat, according to MPR. Breweries with taprooms, whose business largely comes from sales in liquor stores, have little incentive to antagonize distributors and retailers who oppose Sunday liquor sales.

"We deal with a lot of retailers who would really love to see things change and we deal with a lot of retailers that like the way the system runs right now," said Dustin Brau, co-founder of Brau Brothers Brewing company in western Minnesota. "It would be silly for us to stand on one side of that fence."

State Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth will introduce a 2014 bill that would allow retailers to choose which day to close.

"The big argument from liquor stores is that we'll be open an extra day, and we'd have extra expense but no extra sales," Reinert said. "Close on Monday if that's your low day, close on Tuesday if that's your low day – you can run your business the way you want to run your business.

"If we're serious about providing a market that is fertile for growth and development, especially in the craft beer industry, which is seeing double-digit growth, we have to address some of these things that frankly are leftovers from Prohibition," he said.

Minnesota is one of 12 states that ban Sunday sales. The legislative session starts Feb. 25, 2014.

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