Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Liquor Sales in Sioux Falls and The Politics of Convenience

Ever walk into World Market, or a local grocery store on a Sunday and notice those signs that advise you that state law prevents sales of wine and liquor on Sunday? The Fork always knew that was a crock, because unlike the state law that pre-empts the ability of municipal governments to handle their own local smoking restrictions, municipalities have had the ability to regulate liquor sales for some time. City ordinances prevented the Sunday sales.  State law merely allowed the cities to decide that one for themselves. If you happened to find yourself in another community in South Dakota (Spearfish comes to mind) on a Sunday and needed a little wine for dinner or a refill of blood mary fixins because all you pals dropped by to watch an early football game you could visit any liquor retailer. 

Well, at any rate, according to a story on today,,76509 apparently the Sioux Falls City Council finally relaxed the non-sensical Sunday prohibition. Somehow, news of this managed to escape the Fork's tightly-woven intelligence network.

An ordinance preventing Sunday sales is a classic example of a "blue law." The Fork isn't sure what the history of the moniker is, but the Fork knows a blue law on sight. Blue laws impose a certain standard of moral conduct, especially on Sundays. Blue laws still exist in many places today, including South Dakota.  For instance, according to our state statues, there are two days when alcohol cannot be sold- Christmas Day and Memorial Day.  Some municipalities do not allow on-sale liquor establishments to be open on Sunday.  Vermillion comes to mind. Some cities regulate how liquor must be sold. It has only been in the last 10-15 years that Rapid City repealed an ordinance that mandated that liquor be packaged in a plain brown paper bag when it is sold. The so-called "plain brown wrapper."

Some blue laws probably make some sense, but it definitely makes sense that local municipalities should be free to determine their own community standards and pass ordinances accordingly.

The Fork cannot help but notice the timing of this repeal coincides to some degree with the decision of the Legislature last session to repeal the restriction on the number of off-sale licenses that can be owned by corporations, the so-called Hy Vee bill. (Hy Vee was a major proponent of the measure which had previously been pursued by other major food retailers.) Under the old law, corporations, like Nash-Finch, Hy Vee, or Safeway (West River) could only hold so many off-sale licenses. That's why Hy Vee on Louise Avenue had a liquor department in-store, but there was no liquor department at 26th and Sycamore or at the East 10th location. Sunshine has beer, wine, and liquor on 57th and Cliff, but not 14th Street. Lewis Drug is even in the game offering beer, wine, and liquor now. Get it? If the Fork's crystal napkin ring is working correctly, it is probably only a matter of time before almost all of the major grocery retailers in Sioux Falls are offering beer, wine, and liquor at most all of their locations. If the recent remodeling of the Hy Vee at 49th and Louise is a sign of things to come, it is only a matter of time before Hy Vee revamps the 26th and Sycamore location. The Fork wouldn't be a bit surprised to see a big liquor selection at 26th and Sycamore filling up that space where Boomer's used to be.

There is no doubt that with these changes, the consumer is going to enjoy one-stop convenience. Need some shrimp and a bottle of sauvignon blanc to make shrimp scampi, even on Sunday? No sweat. Just pull into Hy Vee or Sunshine. No more stops at the grocery store for the food and then a second stop at a neighborhood liquor retailer to pick up the wine.

Convenience is great, but the Fork hopes people will remember that there is a price to be paid for that convenience. In terms of sucking more and more of the retail liquor business into already-existing grocery stores, the clear loser is the small, independent local liquor retailer. There is no way a local independent can compete with a large food retailer that already possesses real estate, employees, and its own distribution system. Actually, if you look around Sioux Falls, you might notice a few vacancies where some of those small liquor stores used to be. It's just a matter of simple economics.

Sometimes, life is about more than doing what is easy and most convenient.  If you've been patronizing a local bottle shop and developed a relationship with the proprietor, the Fork hopes you will continue to give your business to that small, local business person's establishment and encourage others to do the same.  If you don't have a relationship like that, or care more about the economics of convenience, don't complain when there are no more friendly little wine and liquor shops around.


Anonymous said...

There is nothing stopping these long-time, independent liquor store owners from using their knowledge and expertise to land a job at Hy-Vee or Sunshine. Both parties would benefit. Adaptation in the market can be successful. It isn't an either/or game.

The Secret Fork said...

Anon 6:17, you are correct, that is an option. It's easy enough to imagine some of the independents doing just that, if they want to go from being business owners to employees of the folks who put them out of business. Some of the independents may ultimately survive and thrive. Only time and the market will tell.