By Esme Murphy

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Have you checked out prices at your local liquor store? Chances are they are a lot lower than a year ago.

Some call it the “Total Wine Effect.”

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Since Total Wine stores entered the Twin Cities market with its four super stores, full out price wars have been underway. For years, national chains avoided Minnesota because of its restrictive liquor laws, including the ban on Sunday sales.

Total Wine, however, decided Minnesota was too good a market to pass up.

“Alcohol alone in Minnesota is a $3 billion industry,” Professor David Vang of the University of St. Thomas said.

Vang says Total Wine’s plunge into the Minnesota market has been a game changer. Jack Farrell, who has owned Haskell’s liquor stores for more than forty years, agrees.

“It’s a free-for-all,” Farrell said. “Everyone has been affected by Total coming into the market.”

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In response to Total Wine, Haskell’s has slashed prices on popular brands. A year ago, Haskells charged $23.95 for a 1.75 liter bottle of Captain Morgan rum. Now its selling for $19.98.

Farrell says Total Wine’s pricing was one factor in the decision to close the Burnsville Haskell’s earlier this year.

Also feeling the pinch are independent and municipal liquor stores. In Richfield, sales at municipal liquor stores are down more than 5 percent from a year ago, and the competition is only getting tougher. Target recently  opened its second metro area liquor stores inside the Super Target in St. Louis Park. Twin cities consumers like Felice Johnson are tracking prices.

“The prices are dropping. I love it,” Johnson said.

As price wars rage on, Farrell says consumers are the real winners.

“If you ever wanted to stock your cellar wherever you stock it, it’s a a great time to do it,” he said. “The top 25 brands are being sold pretty much close to cost.”

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Minnesota liquor law also bars liquor stores from exclusives, so some municipal liquor stores are buying Total Wine’s private label products and undercutting their prices, too.

Esme Murphy