Bluer Than Blue Laws

Stephanie March makes the case for liquor sales seven days a week.

Wine shelf in a liquor store
Photo by Katherine Harris

Remember those old laws that cracked you up in fifth grade? You know the ones that say it’s illegal to cross a state line with a chicken on your head or sleep naked or tease skunks or buy wine on Sunday? It’s odd to think that at some point in time there were intelligent thinkers who decided it was the governing body’s responsibility to stop you from sleeping naked or buying wine on one day of the week. And yet here we stand.

While many antiquated laws are funny (don’t drive a red car down Lake Street!), the blue laws regarding alcohol sales and consumption are not only outdated, but also a little offensive. The law that prevents liquor stores from being open on Sunday is one that is frequently debated before the legislature.

Though this law may have been originally born of puritanical morality issues, they’re not really driving this bus anymore—no one seems to be calling for a righteous bloody mary/booze ban during restaurant brunch. It’s all about politics, specifically deep-pocketed special interest groups that keep the discussion out of the consumer’s hands. And that’s what I find offensive.

Certain groups (including a lot of liquor stores, but not all of them) want to keep the status quo, partly to keep competition in line and partly to keep the door closed on alcohol sales in grocery stores. As someone who watches our food and beverage scene intently, I don’t think it’s in the best interest of our state, our businesses, our consumers, or our visitors to hold to the past so tightly. It protects only the established and keeps their coffers brimming at their current levels. I’m not anti-small business, but I am anti-small thinking and fear politics. The fact is, we as an eating and drinking community are changing; we are evolving and creating new jobs and a new identity with craft breweries and craft distilleries.

The new businesses need help. We need to allow taprooms to sell growlers on Sunday; we need to let those who want to have another weekend day to engage the consumers with local brands to do so. The fear that there are no “more” dollars to be earned, just the same dollars spread over more days, is bunk: What other category of retailers truly think they couldn’t make more money with an extra WEEKEND day of business?

The whole point of the new businesses is to widen the circle of engagement, to bring a bigger appreciation for the beverage world. This is not about excess and quantity. This is a big-picture evolution in which more people have more time to discover beautiful beverages when they want. Not just when the government says. It supports the community of drink businesses, not just the ones paying into the lobby.

This issue will continue to be debated until the people decide to shout loudly enough to be heard over the lobbyists. Luckily, the Minnesota Beer Activists group is taking up the cause and has mobilized consumers for this year’s debate.

Personally, I hope it’s the last.