Surdyk’s Sunday Liquor Bonanza, and the Modernization of Risk Assessment

Jim Surdyk opened his liquor store on a Sunday!” screamed the Internet all day Sunday and Monday. “What was he thinking! Did you see the fine? He lost his liquor license for 30 days in July! Do you think it was worth it?”

Of course it was worth it. Why is this even a debate?

I can’t speak for Jim Surdyk, but I do know the first sentence I read in the MPR article contained “longtime liquor store owner.” I also know that you don’t get to be a longtime anything owner in this day and age unless you’re thinking a few steps ahead. Let me tell you why it was worth it, and why we might see something like this again before long.

Surdyk’s early returns are off the charts, for one, ostensibly in one highly-sought American currency (cash) and most definitely in the other (attention). I heard stories about that line wrapping all the way around the inside of the store, and we’ll be talking about this for quite some time. It’ll come back up in June, and it’ll come back up in July. In the meantime, customers who found this move admirable might keep going back until the ban takes effect.

That’s a point I think got past quite a few people. This wasn’t a “one-day versus whatever-the-penalty-is” situation. Surdyk’s has three-and-a-half months to soften July’s losses, and might see an increase in sales after the suspension lifts. On top of that, there might not even be losses!

The original fine was $3,500, and the city has already lightened up once (it was reduced to $2,000). What if the suspension gets lightened, or tossed out entirely? What if they’re right there, open, that first Sunday in July? I’d be livid if I was another liquor store owner, but … how many do you think would go back in time and do it given the chance? I don’t know if I would or not, but I’d spend a lot of time thinking it over.

It might not have been the right thing, it might not have been the fair thing, but the numbers may one day reveal a risk that produced value despite the penalty. For a similar example, we can look toward the White House.

We still haven’t seen Donald Trump’s tax returns, and you know what? We’re never going to. Never ever ever. No stupid petition you sign on the Internet is going to get those books open. Bernie Sanders might as well shout into a seashell. Trump was supposed to open the books during his campaign, wasn’t he? I’ve no doubt the contents of those returns would have him removed from the White House, but nobody can make him produce them. So, he didn’t. He was lambasted, he’s still being lambasted, but it didn’t stop him from getting elected. Nobody could punish him then, and sure as hell nobody can punish him now.

Very different scenarios, yes, but you can apply that philosophy anywhere. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown breaks NFL laws every time he twerks in the end zone. When asked about the fines, he famously said they were “nothing to a boss.” The dance routines boost his brand value. It’s worth it to him.

Even myself: when I’m on the open highway, I almost always drive 10-20 miles per hour over the speed limit. It’s earned me five speeding tickets in the 19 years I’ve been driving, but the value in time I’ve saved is tenfold what I’ve paid in those tickets. Every time I blow-dart my car into the front of the exit line from I-394 East onto I-94 East, I’d estimate I save myself 5-10 minutes. Barring some untrowable circumstance, the worst-case scenario I face for my lead foot has already been paid off. I suspect that’s the case for Surdyk’s as well.

That’s how risk is examined now. You don’t approach it as “X versus Y.” You approach it knowing the sum of its benefits, minus the worst-case risk cost, calculated over a very long time. Layers upon layers. It might not be so complicated in the case of Surdyk himself – the Internet has theorized he may keep this up, then just sell the whole shebang off in the aftermath – but, for the rest of us, decisions aren’t black and white. They’re very, very gray.

I could be completely wrong. I’m just a consumer, after all, but you don’t necessarily follow the rules anymore if breaking them calculates a net positive. That philosophy has always been present. It’s just been amplified lately.

Liquor store owners now have at least an idea what they face should they follow suit, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see another one try in the coming months. They’d be wise to at least consider it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I didn’t have any pictures of Surdyk’s, so instead you got Pope John Paul III taking a beer selfie. Hey, you work with what you’ve got. Also, a couple of typos were fixed after publication.