Mass. liquor stores want to sell booze earlier on Sundays

bottles-of-liquor-on-shelf
Bottles of liquor. Credit: Getty Images

Rise and shine, Bloody Mary-loving Bay Staters, because the early bird gets the booze.

Lawmakers are considering a push to let liquor stores to open earlier on Sunday mornings rather than waiting until noon.

The State House News reported that liquor store owners are worried they will lose sales to Connecticut and Rhode Island, two states that recently moved toward earlier sales, unless they start selling the sweet nectar earlier in the day. Connecticut liquor stores can now open at 10 a.m. on Sundays, and Rhode Island is on the verge of passing legislation to allow morning sales.

On Tuesday, Jay Hibbard, vice president of government relations at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, told lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure that store owners should be allowed to decide their own hours of operation.

Myles Tandy tends shop at Charles Street Liquors on Beacon Hill, and as far as he’s concerned, the expanded hours would not make much of a difference in sales.

“If anything, we might lose business. We don’t get a lot of customers on Sundays,” said Tandy. “Mostly it’s people getting nips or handful of beers. Sometimes we do decently with some of the sparklers; a lot of picnic stuff.”

Rep. Thomas Kennedy, co-chair of the committee, said some in the industry would want liquor stores to be open 24 hours a day if they could get it passed.

Hibbard replied, “I don’t think so,” and added that Sunday has become the second largest shopping day of the week.

Having worked in three different liquor stores in the past five years, Tandy weighed in on how Boston would cope with that availability.

“It’s just based on neighborhood. We wouldn’t do that, but there are definitely some areas of the city where that would go over well,” he said.

The committee heard testimony on bills sponsored by Rep. Steven Howitt that would allow stores to open at 10 a.m. and sponsored by Rep. Sean Garballey that would allow liquor stores to sell alcohol on Sundays the same hours as weekly business hours.

Stores in states that allow longer Sunday alcohol sales have seen increases in revenue, which in turn drive up state revenues, Hibbard said.

Frank Anzalotti, president of the Massachusetts Package Store Association, said the association was taking a “neutral stance” on lengthening Sunday hours. He added that if stores opened longer on Sundays, the Package Store Association would have concerns about time-and-half pay requirements.

“Without the time-and-a-half removal we would be concerned,” he said.

Rep. John Scibak, co-chair of the committee, asked Anzalotti if sales would increase or be spread out with more hours.

“There is a spreading out. What we have seen is a shift of convenience more than a shift in spending. Each sale per hour is going to be trimmed,” Anzalotti said.

Rep. Joshua Cutler said he worries small business owners will feel forced to open earlier on Sundays, and on some holidays, to keep up with their bigger competitors.

Chris Gasbarro, who owns a liquor store in Seekonk, said he felt the same way when Sunday sales became legal in Massachusetts. He was against it because he thought he would lose time with his family, he told lawmakers. Because employees earn time-and-a-half pay on Sunday, he has volunteers lined up to work, and no one who doesn’t want to work is forced to do so, he said.

Gasbarro is one of the liquor store owners pushing for more hours.

With liquor stores in Connecticut and Rhode Island opening earlier, “it is pushing the tail backwards,” into Massachusetts, Gasbarro said. Often on Sundays, Gasbarro said, he will have between 20 to 30 customers lined up at his store by noon. Customers tell him they want to shop early on Sunday, especially during the summer, and then head home, to the beach or their boats, he said.

Lawmakers also heard from supporters of a bill that would allow distilled spirits to be sold at auctions. The market for collectible cognacs and other high-end spirits has grown “robust” in recent years, but auction houses in Massachusetts are not enjoying the boom, according to Hibbard from the Distilled Spirits Council. The legislation would also allow auction of spirits for charity events.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS



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