Could Connecticut finally be saying goodbye to dry Sundays?
With the Nutmeg State now facing an $8 billion budget deficit over the next three fiscal years, some state legislators are pushing for the repeal of an old law that bans the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The additional sales, they say, would boost business for alcohol vendors and bring in much-needed state tax revenue — an estimated $2.5 million to 5 million per year, according to Connecticut’s Office of Fiscal Analysis.
But while some struggling alcohol vendors are hoping Sunday sales could be their saving grace, others say lifting the ban would only be a burden, requiring extra operating costs not matched by revenue from an additional day of business. The debate over the ultimate profitability of Sunday sales is currently playing out among legislators in Hartford, but some thirsty Elis said they are keeping their fingers crossed for the state to finally abolish a liquor law they called inconvenient and antiquated.
THE LAST BLUE LAW
In the 1600s, Puritan colonists enacted rigid laws — later known as “blue laws” — to regulate behavior on Sundays, the Christian day of worship. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Connecticut banned Sunday alcohol sales.
Today, Connecticut is one of only three states, including Georgia and Indiana, that prohibit over-the-counter sales of beer, wine and liquor on Sundays. In Connecticut, the prohibition is in effect between 9 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. Mondays. (Restaurants, hotels, bars and similar establishments can sell alcohol to be consumed on the premises.)
For some Sunday sales proponents, doing away with the ban is a matter of overturning the state’s last blue law, which they say is not only outdated but also unconstitutional.
Bruce Nevins, the owner of WineWise in Greenwich, Conn., and a longtime advocate of Sunday alcohol sales, said the law presents a “constitutional issue” because of the separation of church and state.
“It boils down to there’s not one valid reason to keep this antiquated law on the books,” Nevins said.
THIRSTY FOR RELIEF
Now that the economy and the state budget have taken turns for the worse, some legislators are ready to reverse Connecticut’s last blue law.
State Sen. John Kissel (R) and Reps. Karen Jarmoc (D) and Kathy Tallarita (D) have introduced legislation calling for the repeal of the Sunday alcohol sales ban. Kissel, Jarmoc and Tallarita represent Enfield, Conn., where some owners of package stores (stores that sell closed-container beer, wine and liquor to be consumed off the premises) say they are losing business to consumers who travel out of state to buy alcohol on Sundays.
Indeed, Nevins said many of his potential customers in Greenwich drive to New York to buy alcohol on Sundays while other Connecticut residents go to Massachusetts or Rhode Island.
“Businesses on the border are being denied revenue,” he said. “And the State of Connecticut is losing millions of dollars in tax revenue.”
Economic data suggest that the reversal of the ban would be a boon for alcohol vendors, said Ben Jenkins, a spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a national trade association that supports Sunday alcohol sales. All 13 states that have authorized Sunday alcohol sales since 2002 saw between 5 and 8 percent increases in sales when they started selling on Sundays, Jenkins explained.
“These days, modern consumers shop on Sundays,” he said, noting that a reversal of Connecticut’s ban would result in “added consumer convenience, added choices for business owners and added revenue for the state treasury.”
FIGHTING FOR THE LITTLE GUYS?
But if State Sen. Thomas Colapietro (D) has his way, the Sunday sales ban will stay.
Colapietro is the co-chairman of the legislature’s General Law Committee, which deals with matters relating to alcoholic beverages. In a phone interview Wednesday, he said he is intent on blocking proposed Sunday sales legislation from being sent to a vote.
For small package stores, Colapietro explained, staying open an extra day would necessitate additional costs, such as those for labor and utilities. Given the weak economy, he said, these expenses would likely exceed any additional revenue for the stores.
“The majority of small package stores just don’t want to stay open Sundays,” Colapietro said.
In fact, on Wednesday, more than 100 package store owners from throughout the state rallied inside the Capitol in opposition to Sunday alcohol sales, the Connecticut Post reported.
Even though the proposed legislation would make Sunday sales voluntary, competition would likely force small alcohol vendors to open their doors on Sundays or else lose business, said Carroll Hughes, the executive director of the Connecticut Package Stores Association, which he said represents about 500 out of the state’s 1,100 package stores. Hughes estimated that as many as 200 of the state’s package stores could close as a result — leaving “big box” grocery and convenience stores, which are generally already open on Sundays, to profit.
And in response to increased public drunkenness, Hughes added, Connecticut could incur further costs for social and public safety services, such as policing.
“Every time you increase alcohol consumption, there’s an increase in costs in the state budget and the municipal budget,” he said.
But in addition to the legislation proposed by Kissel, Jarmoc and Tallarita, Jarmoc told the News there is a “pretty strong likelihood” that a Sunday sales provision will be a part of the Democrats’ budget plan. (Senate Republicans on Wednesday removed a Sunday sales provision from their own budget.)
Jarmoc added that Sunday sales proponents in the legislature are also working with the Finance Committee to try to incorporate a Sunday sales provision into the pending tax package.
ALE AT YALE
Although New Haven is not a border town, alcohol vendors in the Elm City suggested liquor stores near Yale’s campus would still benefit from a repeal of Connecticut’s Sunday sales ban.
Gary Gagliardi, who owns Gag Jr’s Liquor Shop on Chapel Street, said he supports giving alcohol vendors the right to be open all seven days of the week.
“Why not?” he said. “At least I know I could be open.”
Gagliardi explained that Yale students provide enough regular business that, for him, the revenue from an extra day of sales would likely outweigh the costs of staying open.
Five students interviewed for this article said they are in favor of Sunday liquor sales, which they said would be more convenient and would overturn a law several of them deemed “arbitrary.”
Still, most campus parties happen Thursday through Saturday nights. And even senior society events held on Sundays are “not very alcohol-heavy” because students have class on Mondays, said one society member who asked to remain anonymous.
“I think occasionally it’s an inconvenience for people,” the senior said of the Sunday sales ban. “But since it’s always been like this during our time here, people have pretty much adapted.”
The bigger inconvenience is that Connecticut forbids alcohol sales after 9 p.m. during the rest of the week, said one sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous because the student is underage.
Ashvan Patel, the owner of Broadway Liquor on Dixwell Avenue, said he would not open his store for a seventh day, even if the blue law is lifted. Sunday, he said, is his one day of rest, when he has free time to spend with his family.