Massachusetts Ends Ban on Sunday Liquor Sales

Published January 1, 2004

With the stroke of a pen on November 26, Governor Mitt Romney brought the Puritan State into the twenty-first century, striking down the state’s ban on Sunday alcohol sales, one of the last vestiges of the Prohibition era.

“Here in Massachusetts, the Mother of all Blue Laws–the Sunday sales prohibition–is finally history,” said Peter Cressy, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the national trade association representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits sold in the United States. “Consumers and retailers will no longer be bound by Blue Laws of a bygone era, while the state will gain new revenue.” DISCUS lobbied aggressively in support of the change, as did beer wholesalers.

Under the new law, which goes into effect immediately, package [liquor] stores throughout Massachusetts will be permitted to open on Sunday all year round. Since 1990, those stores have been permitted to open on the Sunday after Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, or year-round if they were located within 10 miles of the New Hampshire and Vermont borders.

“It is clear to me that the extension of Sunday sales will reap untold benefits upon businesses, employees, consumers, and the Commonwealth,” said State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley (D-North Adams), House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Government Regulations. “Enactment of this legislation will help us retain untold millions in tax revenue that we are currently losing to our neighboring states both in the form of alcohol sales on Sunday as well as sales incidental to the purchase of alcohol on Sunday.”

According to the Beer Institute and National Beer Wholesalers Association, in Massachusetts alone about 24,000 jobs are the direct result of brewing, wholesaling, and retailing beer products.

Many States Liberalizing Liquor Laws

Massachusetts is the sixth state in the past year and a half to approve Sunday sales expansions, as states nationwide reconsider their Prohibition-era liquor laws. Blue Law rollbacks also have occurred in Delaware, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island (during holiday season).

With the 70th anniversary of Prohibition repeal on December 5, states are modernizing these laws to provide consumers more convenience and states more tax revenue. Twenty-seven states now permit the sale of spirits on Sunday.

Earlier in the debate, DISCUS commended the Massachusetts legislature for including Sunday alcohol sales as part of the economic stimulus bill, calling the move “a resounding vote for a more consumer-friendly marketplace in Massachusetts.” DISCUS estimates that Sunday sale of spirits will generate “between $1.5 and $2.1 million in new tax revenues for the state.”

Recent implementation of Sunday liquor sales in Oregon and Pennsylvania have resulted in an immediate boost to state tax revenues. Pennsylvania’s sales are up 10 percent since Sunday sales have gone into effect. Pennsylvania Liquor Control Chairman Jonathan Newman called Sunday sales a “grand slam home run,” reporting that Sunday sales have not detracted from sales on other days. In Oregon, a survey by the State Stores Association found that stores open on Sundays have increased weekly revenues between 9.2 and 19.6 percent.

Frank Coleman is senior vice president, and Lisa Hawkins is vice president for public affairs and communications, with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States