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Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Sunday liquor sales flourish as states discard Prohibition-era laws

May 29, 2003

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— On their way to a recent Sunday dinner at a friend's house, Ed and Alice Daino stopped at the store for two bottles of red wine -- a transaction that would have been impossible just a few weeks ago.

In a sign that Prohibition-era restrictions are drying up, Delaware and New York have become the 25th and 26th states to allow Sunday sales at liquor stores -- putting states with Sunday bans in the minority.

"It's convenient," said Ed Daino, 67.

Delaware's Sunday sales started May 18; the New York change came last weekend. Pennsylvania repealed its ban in February at 10 percent of its government-run stores as part of a two-year pilot study, and Oregon did away with its restriction a year ago.

Legislation has been considered this year in other states, including Kansas, Colorado, Rhode Island and Washington.

The trend began 40 years ago when women began entering the work force in large numbers, said David Laband, an economic and policy professor at Auburn University and co-author of "Blue Laws: The History, Economics and Politics of Sunday-Closing Laws."

"The time frame within which much of the shopping can be done for a family has been compressed into the weekend, with so many women working," Laband said. "There's been enormous economic opportunity for establishments to be open all weekend long."

Industry officials say the rollback marks a convergence of lean budget times, economic competition between states, and the continuing erosion of blue laws.

"I think the stars were in alignment," said Jonathan Newman, chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. "If you can buy so many things on Sunday, what makes getting a bottle of wine for a spaghetti dinner inappropriate?"

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States has lobbied legislatures across the country to repeal blue laws. "It's a top legislative priority for this organization and for many retail groups across the country to finally fold up the last of the blue laws, the legacy of Prohibition," said council spokesman Frank Coleman.

While opposition on moral grounds has been muted, the repeals have generated industry infighting, often pitting the owners of small stores -- some of whom would prefer not to work Sundays -- against larger outlets.

"There is mom-and-pop opposition because it's their day off, and that's undeniable," Coleman said. "If you don't want to open on Sunday, don't do it, but don't stop somebody else from doing it."

Kristine O'Hanlon, president of the Eastern New York Liquor Stores Assn., said she and most of her group's 120 members don't predict a sales increase, so they'll stay closed on Sundays.

"Nobody is going to drink more just because you can buy it on a Sunday now," she said.

Not all efforts to repeal Sunday sales bans have succeeded. Colorado lawmakers rejected a proposal, and a measure in Kansas didn't pass the Senate. Nevertheless, several Kansas communities have passed ordinances allowing Sunday sales, some of which are being challenged by the state attorney general.

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