A new legislative proposal could soon bring an end to state restrictions prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sundays and certain holidays, but liquor store owners across the region are concerned that the bill being presented would have long-lasting negative effects on the economy and liquor industry in Connecticut.
Southington storeowners said Monday that they are building opposition to a proposal that they believe will only benefit the large stores and grocery chains that sell alcohol. The effects of the bill would instead put incredible strain on the small storeowners and cost the state thousands of jobs in a struggling economy instead of benefiting consumers, they said.
“If this is put into law, it will mean the end of the mom and pop stores we have in the state,” said Sharmishtel Patel, owner of in Plantsville. “We aren’t talking a few; we are talking about hundreds of stores across the state and it’ll only be a matter of time, a couple years before they are forced to close.”
The Sunday sales topic has come up at the legislative level several times in the past decade, including before the legislature's Program Review and Investigations Committee in 2010, but was met with heavy opposition from small business owners across the state.
After hearings, state legislators declined to move forward with an effort to repeal the current restrictions, which prohibit commercial alcohol sales on Sunday outside of bars and restaurant establishments.
Connecticut is one of just two states that still hold restrictions that conform to the old “blue laws” dating back to Prohibition. Indiana still has laws on the books, but Georgia repealed its state restrictions in July 2011.
Although grabbed headlines in January, storeowners said it is the lesser-known parts of the proposed bill that have them “extremely concerned.”
The bill, which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he intends to present during the upcoming legislative session, would provide storeowners with the ability to open on Sundays and certain holidays. The bill also aims to eliminate mandatory minimum pricing requirements on alcoholic beverages, a provision that Malloy said would provide lower prices and other benefits to the consumer.
“As the years go by and other states modify their laws to reflect modern-day realities, our statutes have collected dust and it has resulted in consumers shopping in bordering states, causing Connecticut retailers to lose $570 million in sales each year to surrounding states by some industry estimates,” Malloy said. “This proposal is pro-consumer, pro-‘mom and pop’ and pro-dollars being spent within Connecticut.”
A nonpartisan study in 2009 suggested that repealing certain restrictions could generate an additional $7 million to $8 million in tax revenues while boosting revenue for stores near the state's borders.
Massachusetts resident Scott Wundt, who owns Center Spirits in Granby, said he’s in favor of allowing stores to open “for limited hours” on Sunday and does believe that those in border towns could see a slight increase in the number of customers over the course of a year.
But local storeowners said they intend to refute the claims during the upcoming session. If left unchanged, storeowners and managers worries that it could lead to anywhere from 300 to 500 stores closing in just the next two years.
Matteo Fagin, wine manager at on Queen Street, said it’s not the Sunday sales that are a problem. The issue lies in eliminating minimum pricing requirements, which would leave the smaller businesses unable to compete and make finding items such as specialty wines far more difficult, he said.
“The Sunday issue is one thing, but there are some things in this bill that, if it goes through, will turn the whole state upside down,” Fagin said. “There are some things cause wholesalers to close and put lot of stress on the industry as a whole.”
By eliminating the minimum purchasing laws, Fagin said, he worries that only those stores that usually buy in bulk would be able to compete with the larger chains. In particular, both Fagin and Patel said they are already struggling to keep customers as stores like and offer special sales and fear that would only get worse.
Both also expressed concerns that instead of gaining extra sales in central Connecticut, storeowners would face a challenge of either expending additional revenue to stay open and maintain their current sale levels spread out over several days or even worse, lose sales because they are unable to open on Sundays.
“This isn’t going to increase sales. That’s not a reality here,” Patel said. “What will happen is there will be a shift of when people buy and the current sales pattern will simply shift.”
Many in the state share this view, including some near the state borders. Sergio Castro, general manager at The Liquor Cabinet in East Granby, said he does not see any revenue increase coming if the store were allowed to be open on Sunday.
It’s not just Sunday sales that are holding back these stores either, said both Castro and Wundt, especially given that the state’s excise tax, which went up in 2011 while Massachusetts eliminated its alcohol tax, makes them unable to compete with stores across the border.
“I think the governor is talking out of both sides of his mouth. He says he wants to make us more competitive with Sunday sales, but the excise tax makes us less competitive,” Wundt said.
So where is the line to help make everyone happy?
Storeowners said that a solution may lie in a compromise that would provide stores the option to open for a limited number of hours on Sundays and holidays but eliminates the rest of the bill and lowers taxes on alcohol sales.
“There has to be some give and take,” Ambalel Patel, owner of in Southington. “I’m not against Sunday sales if they keep them to five or six hours, but they need to adjust the tax and other parts of this bill have to go.”
The Granbys Patch Editor Ted Glanzer contributed to this report.