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.