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Worthington, Luverne could be affected by proposed 'blue law' repeal

WORTHINGTON -- Sunday liquor sales could become a reality in Worthington and Luverne on an off-sale basis without a city-wide vote if a bill repealing Minnesota's "blue law" becomes law.

WORTHINGTON -- Sunday liquor sales could become a reality in Worthington and Luverne on an off-sale basis without a city-wide vote if a bill repealing Minnesota's "blue law" becomes law.

The cities' prohibitions against selling intoxicating liquor -- which can only be repealed with a public vote -- apply only to on-sale liquor.

As written, the Senate bill regarding off-sale liquor does not require any elections.

"I would have to conclude that, if it is passed as-is, the off-sale of Sunday liquor would merely require a decision by the city to allow the municipal liquor store to be open and sell liquor," said Worthington City Attorney Mark Shepherd.

The Minnesota Senate Commerce Committee voted 8-7 Wednesday to send the bill to the Senate Finance Committee for approval. The next step would be a vote in the full Minnesota Senate.

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Should the bill become law, it would allow -- but not require -- liquor to be sold on an off-sale basis on Sundays.

On-sale liquor would still be prohibited on Sundays in Worthington, Luverne and any other municipalities with existing ordinances.

Worthington and Luverne have both offered residents multiple chances to repeal the on-sale Sunday liquor ban. In 2004, a measure to allow Sunday sales failed at the polls in Worthington with a 2,636-1,837 vote, and failed at the Luverne polls by 1,433-1,023. Citizens of Luverne had another shot at Sunday liquor in 2008, but the measure failed 1,232-1,180.

Although it's difficult to say for certain, prohibiting on-sale Sunday liquor may already be harming Worthington's chances for economic development, if restaurants hesitate to build in Worthington for that reason.

In the future, the ban may also prompt groups to avoid using Worthington's Event Center.

"The public voted against the Sunday sales on several occasions," said Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark. "Would that be something we want to reconsider?"

Opening Sundays

for off-sale

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If it becomes law, the bill may also have a negative impact on liquor stores' bottom lines -- opening an extra day may cost more money than it generates.

"I'm not a hundred percent convinced... that we have the demand for being open for Sunday here in Jackson, so from that standpoint, it's kind of a double whammy -- we're adding that extra day of staffing and I'm not sure if we'll get the payback from it," said Pat Christopherson, administrator of the city of Jackson, which operates a municipal liquor store.

Christopherson estimated the extra staff time involved in staying open Sundays would cost the city $12,000 to $15,000 annually in wages alone.

"I don't know if I see the overall argument for it," Christopherson said.

Rich DeSchepper, manager of Blue Mound Liquor, Luverne's municipal liquor store, agreed, noting the sales would likely just be spread out over an extra day rather than increasing.

"I'm not sure it would raise the net profit for the city of Luverne," DeSchepper said. "In my opinion, it would cost us more to be open on a Sunday."

Worthington's municipal liquor store generated about $300,000 for the city in 2010 -- enough to pay the Worthington Fire Department's budget and about half the budget for snow removal efforts.

Don Davis, state Capitol reporter for Forum Communications Co., contributed to this story.

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