Alcohol

Washington, D.C. Considers Allowing Sunday Liquor Sales

Changes could make D.C. a seven-day-sprit city

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Washington, D.C. is considering lifting its longstanding ban on Sunday liquor sales. The ban is unpopular and is currently costing the city more than $700,000 a year in sales tax receipts. Meanwhile, District drinking guru and author Garrett Peck argued earlier this year that all liquor store owners had to do to overturn the city's restriction on Sunday sales was ask.  

So what's the rub?

Those same liquor store owners are balking at the idea. They argue that they don't want to work on Sundays, that Sunday sales will simply increase their costs while cutting into sales on other days—an argument that Reason contributor Jackson Kuhl ripped to shreds earlier this year—and that competition from big box stores like Walmart will erode their market share.

While some Walmart locations do sell liquor, the District is currently home to exactly zero Walmart stores. 

As for profitability, assuming that liquor stores are profitable businesses the other six days of the week, is there any reason to believe that Sunday would be a uniquely unprofitable day to be open? If the experience of other states that have recently legalized Sunday sales is any indicator, then Sunday is just another profitable day to sell liquor that ends in a "y." Michigan (which legalized Sunday sales in 2010) found that Sunday sales were immediately good for state coffers. One Rhode Island seller said that state's move to Sunday sales "significantly boosted business."

And the retailers least pleased with the recent legalization of Sunday sales in Connecticut appear to be liquor stores in New York, which has permitted Sunday sales for some time.

One New York seller noted that owners of cars with Connecticut license plates had accounted for "about 80 to 85 percent of our sales on Sunday."

Considering most every person in Washington, D.C. is less than a half hour from a liquor store in Maryland or Virginia—states that permit Sunday sales—it's reasonable to assume lifting the ban on Sunday sales would cut into business in those states somewhat. And the sales tax projections bear out that Sunday sales would be a win-win for the District.

It's also likely that other players—not just big box stores—would enter the market and expand consumer choice. For example, some groceries in the District that don't carry liquor avoid selling it because doing so would force them to close on Sundays. (Another solution—walling off a liquor section on Sundays—is a costly and inefficient use of space that at least one grocer in the District has nonetheless adopted.)

Rodman's, a busy and popular specialty grocer located within walking distance of the District's Maryland suburbs, boasts an impressive selection of beer and wine but does not sell liquor. If the District were to open up Sunday sales, that might change.

"As a business decision I think it would be the right one," says Julio Porcell, wine manager at Rodman's, "but it would be up to the owner."

Porcell has waited patiently for the District to relax its ban on Sunday sales.

"I've been in the business 45 years, and I always thought eventually that D.C. would be a seven-day-spirit city," he says.

While the District may relax its ban on Sunday sales, it's not just this part of its liquor rules that need reform in the District. The District's liquor laws are in many ways broken, as evidenced by a recent licensing bust-up involving the popular Hank's Oyster Bar. In that case a handful of neighbors of Hank's were able to force the restaurant's patio to close the night before a popular festival took place in the vicinity because of what's been characterized as a regulatory error made by the former head of the District's liquor control board. The Restaurant Association of Metro Washington is rightly calling for changes "so that small ad hoc groups of people can't hold up the licensing process for businesses."

In the case of Sunday liquor sales in the nation's capital, the small, vocal minority that's holding up repeal of the District's outdated ban would appear to be the sellers themselves. But no one is looking to force owners to open on Sundays. The idea that lifting the ban on Sunday sales would force stores to open else they lose revenue to competitors in the District is absurd, since by not opening on Sundays they are simply losing that same revenue to competitors outside the District (or to restaurants in the District).

I sympathize with small business owners who don't want to work seven days a week. But as the son of a former convenience store owner owner who kept his store open seven days a week, owners in places where Sunday sales are legal have options. They can choose to lose revenue by staying closed, bite the bullet and work all seven days on their own, or do what my father did and partner with others, hire help around the store when you need it, and bribe your kid into volunteering occsaionally by paying him with things like Swedish fish and Bubble Yum.

Washington, D.C. liquor store owners have choices. They shouldn't support a government rule that stands in the way of their loyal customers exercising their own right to choose.

Baylen J. Linnekin, a lawyer, is executive director of Keep Food Legal, a Washington, D.C. nonprofit that advocates in favor of food freedom—the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, cook, eat, and drink the foods of our own choosing.

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  1. How do they expect to get homeless people to take care of puppies on Sundays if they can’t buy liquor?

    1. This is nothing but a ploy by Big Alcohol to make more money. Big Alcohol pushed the 18th Amendment and the 21st Amendment just so they could make more money. If we had a real government, we would get an alcohol ration.

      1. Too much. The key to successful trolling is to be believable. You have to dial it back a little bit or no one is going to buy it.

        Though, to be fair, I have to admit you got a lot of other people going in the housing market thread.

  2. They can choose to lose revenue by staying closed, bite the bullet and work all seven days on their own, or do what my father did and partner with others, hire help around the store when you need it, and bribe your kid into volunteering occsaionally by paying him with things like Swedish fish and and Bubble Yum.

    There’s another option. Make sure the government maintains the ban so that nobody will have to make that Sophie’s choice.

  3. Living in N.H. I can get liquor any Sunday I want. (Yay!) However, all the liquor stores are owned and operated by the State. (Boo!)

    1. State-run liquor stores are the tool of Satan.

  4. “They argue that they don’t want to work on Sundays, that Sunday sales will simply increase their costs while cutting into sales on other days…”

    I once lived in a small, sleepy Louisiana town where nothing ever changed. Ok, I still do now, but it is a different one. When I-49 was completed that small town experienced some small growth. The main drag had a few businesses open and a super Wal-Mart was put in. As a consequence the main drag was expanded by one lane and a shoulder and sidewalk were built.

    One night I was standing in the check-out line in a small store and I heard the woman in front of me tell the check-out girl ” I dont know why they have to put a sidewalk in. They ( the blacks who walked to wal-mart ) dont need a sidewalk. Kaiser Avenue has never had a sidewalk before.”

    Change is scary.

    1. Sidewalks are especially scary.

  5. Those same liquor store owners are balking at the idea. They argue that they don’t want to work on Sundays, that Sunday sales will simply increase their costs while cutting into sales on other days

    Because if the law were to permit liquor sales on Sunday an owner can’t just decide to keep his shop closed on Sundays while he stays home and watches TV in his underwear.

    Why is it that because the law might allow something, people take that as a sign of mandatory participation? Goddammit, I fucking hate people.

    1. What’s not forbidden is now required.

  6. It’s rather outrageous that “blue laws” exist in the first place.

    What to make of business owners who stubbornly cling to restrictions? I suppose those old farts lack the imagination to recognize that lifting a ban doesn’t compel a reaction.

    1. It threatens their own little slice of monopoly. And they are right about that. Life will be less comfortable for them if the ban is lifted. Boo fucking Hoo. This is a classic example of using the law to advantage a small minority at the expense of everyone else.

      1. Yes, I guess you could make the argument that unless stores DO take advantage of the option of being open Sundays, those customers who formerly bought-ahead from them (on say, Saturdays) would instead buy elsewhere on Sundays.

        As you said– boo effin’ hho..

  7. They should ban sales on every day BUT Sunday. Then they’ll have very low variable costs and tons of leisure time. Right?

    1. I’ve been wondering why they don’t try to get something similar passed.

      Have liquour sales only 1 day a week and close up the package stores. Just keep your stock in one big wharehouse and drive around town selling off the back of a truck.

      I mean if your goal is to maximize the profit/day worked ratio.

  8. The Restaurant Association of Metro Washington is rightly calling for changes “so that small ad hoc groups of people can’t hold up the licensing process for businesses.”

    Right, because holding up the licensing process should be the job of large, well-heeled special-interest groups.

  9. …and I don’t buy the NY liquor store owner claim that “80-85%” of his Sunday business being Connecticut buyers, unless he’s right on the NY/ CT border. (And, even if that’s the case– tough titties.)

    1. I bet he is right over the line.
      I used to live near the VA-MD border, with VA’s ABC stores and MD’s private liquor stores. There were all kinds of liquor stores crowded up against the line so VA residents could go to MD just for the variety that VA’s state-run stores wouldn’t bother with.

      1. Clearly not the border with Montgomery County, then. Is that the only county in Maryland with state (county) run liquor stores? I know it’s not the case in Howard.

        1. I think MoCo’s the only one that still has county-owned liquor, unless somebody small on the Eastern Shore also does. With gubmint running things, such a crappy selection here, ya never know if that good beer was sitting on a shelf in the county’s warehouse for six months before somebody finally remembered to fill a store’s order.

          I used to always go to NoVa if I needed booze for a party. These days, with the ICC, it’s easier to hit the TotalWine in Laurel (PG or Howard County; place used to be “Corridor Liquors,” but the state has relaxed its ban on chain booze stores.) MoCo’s so broke, they may be serious about privatizing, though.

          I know there are a couple stores up Rt. 15, right by the PA border, where folks escape the Keystone State’s bizarro liquor laws. Hagerstown probably has a few stores as well.

      2. Same goes for the Mason-Dixon side.

        I used to grab 4 or 5 cases of Guiness for $28/case in MD and take them to southern PA for my buddy instead of the $35+ he had to pay in the state stores.

        Of course, that’s actually a _true_ violation of the ICC.

    2. I grew up in Brewster, NY, first town in NY on I-84 and there is a big liquor store right on the border. Also CT last call is 1 am, so the bars in Brewster fill up around 2am so people can drink ’til 4am.

  10. This is like when Sunday car sales were banned in metro Detroit. It was all about “ZOMG we’ll get unions and people don’t really want to shop for cars on Sunday and church and…”

    There were car stores SHOT UP because owners tried opening on Sunday.

    People suck.

    1. That would be pretty messed up anywhere, but Detroit? That would be like L.A. banning Sunday movies.

      Also, they couldn’t have shot up the stores. Detroit had gun control back then.

    2. All car dealerships in MN are closed on Sunday. Not sure if it is a law, but I actually like it, because it means I can go stare at cars I will never be able to afford without getting annoyed by salesmen.

  11. Alcohol laws seem to be linked with their regional insanities. Here in Ohio, you can’t buy beer that has over 12% alcohol, or liquor that’s over 151 proof. Alcohol up to 40 proof can be bought at grocery stores, anything higher needs to be at a liquor store.

    Indiana allows no alcohol sales on Sundays, unless you produce the alcohol there, in which case you can allow growler sales.

    Texas had the insane beer labeling laws that decided if a beer was an ale or a lager based on ABV.

    I won’t even touch the PA beer laws, that way lies madness.

    1. Concur! PA liquor laws are draconian.

  12. Dude thats not making like any sense at all man.

    http://www.Anon-Post.tk

  13. When I was a kid, my Little League would hold an end-of-year raffle fund raiser, winner was announced on the Sunday of the League Picnic. But, because of the Blue Laws (it’s still the case here a I’ve moved back in thhe last few years), they had to hold the actual drawing on Saturday night.

    Do the gods have some sort of issue with alcohol and gambling that I’m not aware of?

    1. Yep, no mead or beer in Valhalla.

      1. Then I reject the wntire pantheon.

  14. Of course, we live in times when the Team Red legislators don’t want another legislator to use the Vajayjay word on the floor when discussing some WAR ON TEH WIMMINZZz!1! legislation, because “vagina” is too objectionable a term to use when discussing abortion.

    So, what term was she supposed to use – “cunt”? “Vajayjay”? “Twat”? Stupid fucking legislators…

    1. Snatch is nice.

      1. Beaver.

        1. Bearded clam.

            1. C’mon, people. Furburger is the obvious choice for discussion in a distinguished setting such as a legislature.

              1. Vertical Smile.

                1. Banjos FTW.

  15. If you think state-run liquor stores suck, just wait until Team Blue implements state-run *everything* stores.

    1. But it’s going so swimmingly in Cuba!

      1. North Korea, too!

  16. In Taiwan we have 24-7 liquor sales in every convenience store and mom and pop grocery. No open container laws either, not even in a vehicle. They’re talking about lowering BAC for drunk driving. It was 0.25, then they lowered it to 0.20, now they’re talking about 0.05 (!). Luckily, many bars are within walking distance, and you’re free to sit around in public and get trashed. Don’t see many people doing that, though.

  17. “Changes could make D.C. a seven-day-sprit city”

    That’s what happens when you drink too much; you sprit.

  18. Rainbow Puppy|6.17.12 @ 4:51PM|#
    “This is nothing but a ploy by Big Alcohol to make more money. Big Alcohol pushed the 18th Amendment and the 21st Amendment just so they could make more money. If we had a real government, we would get an alcohol ration.”

    FUNNY!

  19. But no one is looking to force owners to open on Sundays. The idea that lifting the ban on Sunday sales would force stores to open else they lose revenue to competitors in the http://www.ceinturesfr.com/cei…..-c-11.html District is absurd, since by not opening on Sundays they are simply losing that same revenue to competitors outside the District (or to restaurants in the District).

  20. s reasonable to assume lifting the ban on Sunday sales would cut into business in those states somewhat. http://www.zonnebrilinnl.com/z…..c-3_7.html And the sales tax projections bear out that Sunday sales would be a win-win for the District.

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