First it was Sunday sales, will booze in grocery stores be next for Minnesota?

The issue was debated in the Legislature this week.
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If you're a beer and wine drinker in Minnesota, there have probably been times you've gazed wistfully at other states that allow alcohol to be sold at grocery stores.

Currently, Minnesota is one of just six states that prevents the sale of any kind of booze above 3.2 percent beer in grocery and convenience stores.

But after Sunday liquor sales came into force last July after a ban spanning more than a century, the loosening of alcohol restrictions for grocery stores could well be the next booze battlefield in Minnesota.

The issue was debated this week in the Minnesota House, after Rep. Jim Nash (R–Waconia) proposed a bill that would allow municipalities to issue off-sale liquor licenses to food retailers.

This would allow them to sell beer and wine, as well as Minnesota-made distilled spirits.

It would also lift the cap on the amount of off-sale liquor licenses that municipalities could issue.

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The argument on both sides

There are valid points on both sides of the debate.

Allowing stronger alcohol to be sold at grocery stores and gas stations would be far more convenient for consumers who could get their booze and food at the same place.

It would also be a huge boon for giant grocery chains, smaller convenience stores and gas stations across Minnesota.

But at the same time, the move would almost certainly prove devastating to Minnesota's well-established liquor store industry, that comprises municipally-run stores as well as private retailers.

At this week's hearing, the Session Daily reports Twin Cities grocery store chains in favor of the change, including Kowalski's, Lunds & Byerlys and Jerry's Foods, tried to describe themselves as "mom and pop stores" in need of the Legislature's help to compete.

But the description is more applicable to liquor stores, even with the recent entry of larger chains like Total Wine to the market.

This was noted by Preston Republican Rep. Greg Davids, who said: "We pass this, and every muni and every small mom-and-pop liquor store is out of business."

There's also a health argument to be made, given that studies have highlighted a link between the accessibility of alcohol and harm caused by excess consumption.

Will it happen? 

Not this year it won't. Even though it was discussed this week, the general feeling was this is one of those issues that will be brought up again next year.

While there may well be demand from consumers for this change, consider how long it took for the Legislature to loosen the restrictions on Sunday sales, a move opposed by a mixture of Republicans and Democrats and the Teamsters union.

Allowing stores to open on Sundays didn't fundamentally change the nature of alcohol sales in Minnesota, whereas opening up booze sales to massive grocery chains like Walmart, Target and Cub Foods definitely would.

As such, don't expect to see it happening any time soon.

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