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UPDATED: 'Four Firkins Bill' Hits Senate Road Block

The fate of the legislation could rest with a legislative conference committee.

In a surprising vote, the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee on Tuesday voted against including the "Four Firkins bill" in an omnibus liquor package.

The 8-4 decision is a serious blow to the legislation, which would allow Minnesota liquor stores to sell their own store-branded merchandise, such as T-shirts. While the proposal did not make the Senate's omnibus plan, it did make it in the House, meaning if the omnibus bills pass in their respective chambers, a conference committee will ultimately decide whether the Four Firkins legislation survives—giving hope to proponents but also making the road ahead more difficult than anticipated.

"It's pretty frustrating," said Jason Alvey, owner of St. Louis Park craft beer store . Alvey got the proposed legislation rolling when he approached Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-District 44) and Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A) earlier this year.

Alvey has argued that he simply wants to be able to better market his store by selling Four Firkins merchandise to loyal customers.

However, the bill has received opposition from the Minnesota Grocers Association. Jamie Pfuhl, the association’s president, wrote in a letter to the Senate commerce committee that it would be unfair to allow liquor stores to sell merchandise while grocery stores are limited in the alcohol they can sell.

“This bill creates a slippery slope," Pfuhl added, "that turns liquor stores into general merchandise stores without offering anyone the ability to expand into liquor retailing.”

Latz said he disagreed with this assessment.

"It's not going to have an impact on any other retailer," he said. "My bill was a pro-business bill."

The senator said he has "no idea" how things will play out from here, adding that he'll aim to "work the legislative process" while letting Alvey market himself and the bill.

Alvey said he is hopeful that he can gain enough support, particularly because the bill was received favorably during committee hearings in both the House and Senate earlier this month. That's why Tuesday's vote came as such a shock to the store owner.

"It's a very big surprise," Alvey said.

The local businessman sent out an email to customers asking for their support, and he said so far he's received "dozens and dozens" of encouraging messages that are also going to the senators who voted against the proposal.

"We need to change their minds," Alvey said.

B. Johnson April 28, 2011 at 02:42 PM
One is a controlled substance, while general merchandise can be sold without a license. I guess some of the only current options would be to give the products away with stamped card purchase history (or have a higher priced unit that includes the t-shirt). Or maybe hold a raffle, where you pay so much to enter - but in the end, everybody wins.
jjackson April 28, 2011 at 02:59 PM
It's no surprise that campaign contributions are more important than the voice of the constituents. We, the taxpayers, and voters- our voices are squelched by big money. Remember, government and corporations know what's best for you. If you took a thousand Minnesotans through a liquor store, that happened to have their logowear available for purchase, then took them outside and posed the question, "What sort of store was that?" I guarantee none of them would answer "A general merchandise store, of course! Or maybe it was a grocery store- I'm not sure." The MN Grocers Association is playing a tit-for-tat game with our state government. The MLBA keeps liquor and wine out of grocery stores, so MN Grocers is going to pitch a fit like a four-year-old child and make everyone miserable because they haven't gotten their way. This issue is NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS, the fact that they even get to say ANYTHING on the matter is inappropriate, let alone using their influence over state lawmakers.
Shawn Stanley April 28, 2011 at 10:20 PM
If the bill passed, what if a liquor store decided to sell the same products as a grocery store? At what point would they lose their liquor license?

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