Proposal would expand places for liquor purchases in Minnesota

A year after ending a prohibition-era law banning people from buying alcohol in stores on Sunday, Minnesota lawmakers on Tuesday considered expanding liquor sales to places like grocery and convenience stores. 

Minnesota was one of fewer than a dozen states that didn't allow liquor sales outside of bars on Sunday until last year. It had been a perennial issue at the Capitol for a decade, but that tide turned after a powerful push by everyday citizens swayed lawmakers into repealing the law.

Though lawmakers took no action Tuesday, the meeting could foreshadow brewing debates leading up to next year's legislative session. Sen. Karin Housley, a Republican from St. Mary's Point, said her bill aims to modernize "antiquated liquor laws."

"We as a state are lagging in responding to changes in the marketplace," Housley said. "It is important that we acknowledge that consumer buying habits are changing."

Minnesota and Utah are the only two states that limit grocery stores to beer of 3.2 percent alcohol or less. Alaska, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island ban liquor grocery store sales entirely. 

Supermarkets, small grocers and corner stores would be able to sell strong beer, wine and Minnesota-distilled spirits under the bill. Those stores are allowed to sell beer and wine with low alcohol content, and stores with attached liquor stores are required to have separate entrances. 

Opponents worry that expanding liquor sales could harm small businesses. 

Jennifer Schonzeit, the owner of Zipps Liquor Store in Minneapolis, told lawmakers she worries that small family-owned stores could struggle to compete for sales if people can buy alcohol elsewhere.

"There will be winners and losers," she said.

Housley said lawmakers plan to review her proposal after the Legislature adjourns next week.