Blue laws face repeal in Eastern US

"Blue laws," which prohibit stores from doing business on Sunday, have been shelved by many states. Businesses and consumers are challenging the wisdom and legality of remaining "common day of rest" provisions, most of which are in the South and Northeast.

Such is the case in Massachusetts where blue laws have existed since 1791. Many consumers here desire more shopping time on weekends, although some like their Sundays free of commerce.

Mike Shea, research director for the commonwealth's Joint Legislative Committee on commerce and Labor, says support for blue law repeal is found among groups who formerly opposed it.

Labor unions, formerly against their members working Sunday hours, now express interest in altering the laws.

Pressure from religious groups does not appear as strong as it once was.

States bordering Massachusetts have repealed their blue laws, and Bay State business now finds itself losing retailers, jobs, and tax dollars to New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.

Mr. Shea also attributes increasing support for repeal to new life styles, especially to households where the husband and wife work varied hours and to new consumer attitudes. No longer is it convenient for people to get their shopping done Monday through Saturday.

This is apparently the case in two Southern states, where stores are open despite blue law restrictions. Although Alabama law bans Sunday retail trade, many grocery and department stores in the Mobile and Montgomery areas report that they are open on Sunday, often for as many as 12 hours. Ray Crosby, an attorney for the state, conceded that enforcement is "discriminatory," strict in many small towns but lax in more populous areas.

The situation in Mississippi is similar. Blue laws are often ignored, especially in urban areas.

Many Massachusetts stores seemed favorably disposed toward opening on Sunday. Lois Frankenberger, public relations director of Jordan Marsh in Boston, says that based on Sunday openings in other states, her company would react positively to a repeal of the blue laws. She recalled a survey showing that a 9 percent increase in sales is directly attributable to Sunday openings. Star Market, the area's largest grocery chain, currently is studying customer support for a change in the law as well as probable effects on sales. A company spokesman said that because of a changing consumer climate, Sunday openings "will very likely become a reality."

In 1977, Massachusetts voters approved a referendum designed to repeal Sunday closing laws. Still, the legislature, responding to pressure from unions, retail associations, and religious groups, relaxed the laws only to allow shopping on Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The new legislation has evoked charges of crass commercialism.

Many large stores consider the laws discriminatory. They are barred from conducting Sunday trade, store representatives say, simply because of their size or the number of people they employ.

Owners of small "mom and pop" stores counter that they do the greatest proportion of their business on Sunday and would suffer in competing with large stores. Typically, larger chains offer lower prices and wider selections, luring customers away from smaller stores

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