After the repeal of one of Connecticut’s oldest “blue laws” — the ban on Sunday liquor sales — was struck down by the state legislature last year, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced a renewed push on Saturday toundo the ban, prompting a mix of reactions from small retailers, lobbyists and consumers.
The allowance of Sunday alcohol sales was one of several “consumer-friendly” policy changes Malloy outlined at an Enfield, Conn. town hall meeting over the weekend. The governor also proposed legislation that would allow liquor stores to remain open until 10 p.m. instead of the current 9 p.m. and would permit restaurants and bars to serve customers until 2 a.m. every day instead of only during weekends as is allowed now. Malloy hopes to lift further regulation stipulating how alcohol is to be handled by distributors, wholesalers, and retailers.
“These laws are outdated and they artificially increase the price of alcohol to Connecticut consumers,” Malloy said in an official statement. “By allowing Sunday sales, by removing distribution and sale restrictions and by amending permit regulations, we’re going to help Connecticut regain its competitive edge in this industry, and we’re going to give consumers a break.”
Malloy’s proposal comes amid claims that Connecticut retailers are losing Sunday sales to New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. These states previously had similar laws banning Sunday liquor sales, but all three legislatures have repealed the regulations since 2002.
Connecticut is one of only 13 states that still prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays. According to Malloy, the current state regulation results in $570 million of lost revenue annually for state retailers as customers flock to stores across the border, though the governor did not cite a source for that figure.
“As the years go by and other states modify their laws to reflect modern-day realities, our statutes have collected dust,” he added.
But two liquor stores in New Haven — New Haven Wine & Liquor and the Grand Vin liquor store — told the News that Malloy’s proposal is misguided and will hurt small “mom and pop” retailers.
Chris Grandvin of the Grand Vin liquor store said that Connecticut stores are not losing business because of Sunday hours but instead because of prices. He said state regulations governing the distribution and pricing of alcoholic beverages make liquor purchased in Connecticut 20 to 30 percent more expensive than in border states.
“[Malloy] is lying to the public about this,” Grandvin said. “We can’t compete with Massachusetts or New York because of a state price structure — it has absolutely nothing to do with Sunday sales.”
Sunday liquor sale regulation has been debated in the Connecticut legislature for years, but political influence from the Connecticut Package Stores Association — the lobbying body that represents many state liquor stores — has thwarted past efforts.
Carroll Hughes, chief lobbyist for the CPSA, has stated previously that if similar legislation passed, market forces would push liquor stores to stay open seven days per week, and this would create an undue fiscal and time burden for retailers.
Grandvin agreed, arguing that Malloy’s proposed changes would effectively extend a six-day work week to a seven-day work week with no significant increase in foot traffic, leading to “the same amount of business but with more expenses.”
“[The proposed legislation] will only be advantageous for big liquor stores who have big pockets, and because of the price structure, it’s going to kill small business,” Grandvin said. “It’s not going to help the small guy, and there are a lot of small guys struggling right now.”
Hughes said last year that Sunday sales would put an estimated 300 to 350 of the state’s 1,100 liquor stores out of business.
Malloy has dismissed this concern, pointing out that the proposed legislation would not require stores to sell liquor on Sundays but would give them the option to do so.
Grandvin said that the proposed changes stem from consumer convenience and not the health of Connecticut businesses as Malloy claims.
“In this day and age convenience is everything — everyone wants immediate service,” Grandvin said.
Student reaction to Malloy’s proposal was mixed — of seven students interviewed, three said that the change would be convenient while four said that they do not find the issue particularly important.
“I don’t think the [current law’s] repeal will have a big difference on my life,” said Paul Joo ’12. “I normally get alcohol around twice a month, and I can generally expect when I want something on hand.”
Other students said allowing Sunday liquor sales would be nice change and would make it easier to schedule Sunday night social events.
The repeal has more public support today than at any other point in the issue’s history, according to a recent polling data. A March 2011 Quinnipiac University poll shows that Connecticut residents support Sunday sales 66 to 31 percent, up from 56 to 39 percent when similar legislation was debated last year.
A December 2009 study from the state’s General Assembly, titled “Connecticut’s Economic Competitiveness in Selected Areas,” concluded that Connecticut could collect an additional $2.5 to $3.1 million annually in excise tax revenue and approximately $5 million in added sales tax revenue if Sunday liquor sales were allowed — a total revenue increase of $7 to $8 million.