PRIOR LAKE — A short line already had formed outside Village Liquor in Prior Lake when manager Pam Hauser arrived at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 2 — more than an hour and a half before the store’s first-ever Sunday opening.
And they weren’t even the earliest customers. A regular of the family-owned store had shown up more than a week early and waited outside the store in his car before realizing he may have gotten the day wrong and quipping that he wanted to make sure he was in line when Minnesota’s Prohibition-era ban was finally, formally lifted, owner Cindy Boegeman said.
The first day of Sunday sales brought more than 796 visitors to the store, who conducted 407 transactions during the seven-hour window established by the Minnesota Legislature during the 2017 session.
Village Liquors offered prize drawings and samples, adding to the celebratory atmosphere. But it wasn't the only place that went out of its way to make the day special. Eden Prairie’s municipal liquor stores offered shoppers “I love Eden Prairie” T-shirts and patriotic-looking “I bought today” stickers.
“They’re actually really cool. We’ve gotten a lot of laughs so far” said Jaime Urbina, liquor operations manager for Eden Prairie.
The mood was similarly cheery across the southwest metro and heightened by the fact that the first day of Sunday liquor sales coincided with the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
The combination sent sales through the roof at Minnetonka’s Tonka Bottle Shop, said Mike Bevins, whose family has owned the popular stop for 44 years.
The excitement continued into the second Sunday of legal sales, with customers stopping in just because they could and a few unexpected keg sales, he said.
“People love it,” Bevins said. “People are all ecstatic for buying liquor on Sundays.”
But Bevins, along with many others, doubts Sunday liquor sales will bring in additional revenue and expects they will instead cut into Saturday sales, as Minnesotans won’t need to stock up in advance for the rest of the weekend.
WAITING TO SEE
Many store owners are waiting to see whether the additional day of sales will even result in enough revenue to offset increased operating costs once the novelty wears off. But some are cautiously optimistic they will see slight increases during the fall football season, or in lakeside communities that draw additional visitors during the summer.
“We would rather not be open on Sundays, but we knew the change was coming for a while. We knew it was inevitable … so we’re adjusting our calendar internally,” said Roxsie Schindler, owner of Chaser’s Beverage Center in Chaska, which is now open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.
The new law doesn’t require liquor stores to be open, and owners can set whatever hours they want within the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. window established by the Legislature, but Schindler wants to be available to serve the store’s customers as well as remain competitive.
Eden Prairie's first Sunday sales brought in 1,161 transactions, comparable to a good Thursday night, Urbina said.
"As expected, the first Sunday was really big. We had lines of 10 or more people waiting to get in at two of our three stores. I think a lot of people were just happy to be able to get in on a Sunday for the first time," he said.
That was followed by a drop on Sunday, July 9, however, with only 701 transactions, making it the city's lowest day in liquor sales that week. Saturday, July 8, also saw a slight decrease in sales from the year before.
"Now I think it'll just be time to see how it's going to affect us over the course of the year," Urbina said. "It's going to take at least one year, or one good football season, to see."
Liquor stores situated near the state border, where people may already be in the habit of buying alcohol on Sundays may see some of the clearest benefits of Sunday sales.
Rep. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, who sponsored the bill in the state House of Representatives, said friends in Wisconsin reported empty parking lots at border liquor stores on the Sunday afternoon Minnesota’s 82-year-old ban lifted.
“I like to think we’re taking business back to Minnesota stores that was going to Wisconsin on Sundays,” she said. “It remains to be seen, and it’s something to check in on periodically, but I’m hoping that it proves to be a beneficial thing for those liquor stores that choose to be open."
Loon was one of many Eden Prairie customers who bought alcohol on the first legal Sunday, purchasing beer, wine and — for a cheesecake recipe — a bottle of limoncello.
Shops in areas with tourism or near grocery stores are well-situated for Sundays, with traffic coming through as people head out to spend the day on the lakes or to complete their shopping for the week, Boegeman and Bevins said.
Village Liquors is not only near a grocery store, where Sundays are a primary shopping day, but also Prior Lake, which draws people on the weekends. Both factors will hopefully contribute to strong sales on Sundays, Boegeman said.
In Savage, the city-owned liquor stores are expected to benefit as well, with locations convenient for grocery shoppers and and close enough to Prior Lake to benefit from increased weekend traffic, said Savage Director of Lliquor Operations Stacy Schmidt.
“Sunday is a huge shopping day in the grocery stores, so it’ll just be one more convenience for them,” Schmidt said. “We’re hoping for additional sales, as opposed to the same sales numbers spread out over the same day.”
ADAPTING AND ADJUSTING
Both customers and store owners are adjusting as the new law takes effect and people have more options for getting a drink on a Sunday, then heading to a restaurant or bar. Customers can stop at a store and consume alcohol safely at home for less expense, Bevins said.
Stores may choose to tailor their hours to better fit demand in their communities and adjust staffing as needed.
The Tonka Bottle Shop and Southbridge Liquor in Shakopee hired additional part-time staff to cover the increased hours, said Tonka Bottle Shop manager Randy Gutzke and Southbridge Liquor owner Michael Wilkie. Other stores, including Chaser’s Beverage Center, have managed to meet increased staffing needs by juggling schedules, Schindler said.
Eden Prairie’s liquor stores scheduled additional help for the first couple weekends, then will adjust schedules based on traffic, Urbina said.
Some proprietors, including the Boegemans, would like to see liquor stores allowed to open a little earlier in the day. During the summer, it would be helpful to open earlier in the morning as people head out for a day at the lake. Slightly earlier hours would also come in handy during football season, as people would have more time to finish shopping before the game started, Boegeman said.
A 10 a.m. start time was considered in the Legislature this year, but compromises were needed to garner the support needed to change the law, Loon said. The law could be tweaked, though that's unlikely to happen anytime soon, as people settle into the new way of doing things and see how it works.
“I think it’ll take a little time for people to adjust and for the marketplace to develop around less-stringent policies,” Loon said.
And for now, grassroots activists can enjoy the results of a successful campaign and a change to the Minnesota’s remaining “blue laws,” making it the 39th state to allow stores to sell alcoholic beverages on Sundays.
Hannah Jones and Tim Engstrom contributed to this report