Saturday, March 11, 2006

Blue State, In More Ways Than One

Living in a blue state is mostly a good thing, but not when it comes to being able to buy wine. Connecticut, you see, is still saddled with what is known as blue laws, religious-based restrictions on fun and commerce on Sundays. These archaic laws leave many locals frustrated as hell and others scratching their heads.

It's a wonder that these laws have survived this long. Since Massachusetts loosened up its Sunday liquor sales restrictions, Connecticut is pretty much isolated in this respect in the Northeast. Connecticut wine stores near the state's borders have got to be losing out. But it's the wine and liquor store owners who are the big obstacle to change. Turns out lots of mom and pop stores like having their Sundays off, and they like the fact that the state provides a level playing field -- because everyone has to close for the day.

The state legislature was considering a small step toward "normalcy" with a proposal that would have allowed wine and liquor stores to open on Sundays for the holidays -- Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve fall on a Sunday this year. But even this gentle relaxing of current restrictions proved too bold, as the bill failed to get out of the Assembly's General Law Committee this past week.

Having once worked in a wine store, I have a lot of sympathy for the owners of small stores. They fear that having to open on Sundays means they will face additional costs without additional revenue because sales likely would not increase -- the same amount of sales would be spread across seven days instead of six. However, even if this is true, Connecticut retailers and legislators are trying to hold back the tide. Like it or not, retailing has changed in the past 20 to 30 years -- consumers expect to be able to shop through the weekends.

Connecticut's remaining blue laws are archaically routed in a religious tradition that is at odds with today's consumer preferences. Blue laws are, in a word, anti-consumer. Right now, the legislature seems pretty focused on its retailing constituents. But today's busy professionals require the entire weekend to get their errands and shopping done, and, of course, to walk the wine. Legislators can't ignore them forever.


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