Some Lancaster County retailers say South Carolina needs uniform, statewide rules for selling beer and wine on Sundays after more than 60 businesses were recently warned about selling the beverages on Sundays.
Some stores started selling beer and wine on Sundays for off-premise consumption after a November 2012 referendum. But voters at the time only agreed to allow restaurants and other eateries to serve alcoholic beverages on Sundays for consumption in the establishments.
Voters were not asked to approve Sunday sales for off-premise consumption, which means a state law forbidding those sales remains in effect.
In York County and the city of Chester, voters have allowed sales of beer and wine on Sundays for off-premise consumption.
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In Lancaster County, some convenience store owners and other retailers thought the 2012 referendum applied to them too. But a letter from the state Department of Revenue clarifying state law was hand-delivered to 66 businesses last month.
The letter, dated April 15, was sent to businesses with permits to sell beer and wine for off-premise consumption Monday through Saturday. The letter said those stores cannot sell beer and wine “between the hours of twelve o’clock Saturday night and sunrise Monday morning.”
If a business sells beer or wine during those hours, “SLED will issue you a violation,” the letter states. Sunday sales of all other alcohol for off-premise use is illegal in South Carolina.
No citations have been issued yet, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said. The agency will give businesses time to comply, he said.
It’s unknown how many of the 66 businesses were selling beer and wine on Sunday. Some say it was just a few businesses while others said the practice was widespread.
Neither the state Department of Revenue nor SLED had a count of possible violators. Bonnie Swingle, spokeswoman for the Department of Revenue, said the agency “received complaints about businesses selling alcohol on Sunday for off-premise purposes, which led to further investigation.
“We found the complaints to be true, realized there was some confusion with this referendum and wanted to give businesses a notice for clarification.”
The restrictions on off-premise Sunday beer and wine sales sales is part of a series of “blue laws” – also known also as Sunday laws – that were designed to restrict or ban some Sunday activities, often for religious reasons. The laws were once especially popular in the South.
“The blue laws are antique,” said Chris Self, owner of the Camp Creek Grocery in Lancaster. “Many people are unaware of the current laws and there should be uniform standards.”
Self was one of the retailers who went ahead with Sunday beer and wine sales after the 2012 referendum. Selling beer and wine tripled his Sunday sales, he said. Customers not only purchased beer but other items, he said.
Southern Spirits, a beer, wine and liquor store on U.S. 521 in Indian Land, was also affected by the revenue department’s letter. In a Facebook post, Southern Spirits said the Sunday sales policy hurts Lancaster County by “causing jobs to be lost and county revenue to be reduced by thousands of dollars annually.”
The owners of Southern Spirits were unavailable for comment on Friday.
Some Lancaster business owners said the law merely pushes business to counties where Sunday sales are allowed, giving those counties a revenue boost.
Hal Crenshaw, operator of convenience stores in Lancaster and Chester counties, understands that all too well.
With off-premise Sunday beer and wine sales prohibited in both counties, his customers go to either York County or the city of Chester on Sunday to buy beer, he said. Crenshaw was among the business owners who thought the 2012 referendum applied to his stores.
“Common rules only seems fair to me. It’s common sense,” Crenshaw said.
Citizens and Businesses for Lancaster County, the group that advocated for the 2012 referendum, is working to get a referendum on off-premise Sunday sales.
Many convenience stores in Lancaster have a copy of a petition for Sunday off-premise sales, said Chet Miller of Citizens and Businesses for Lancaster County.
The hope is to get enough signatures to place the question on the ballot for the 2016 general election in November, he said. About 5,000 signatures of registered voters are needed to put it on the ballot, Miller said. So far he said they about 700 signatures.
Only registered voters in Lancaster can sign the petitions. Those signing the petitions are asked to print their address and date of birth so their voting status can be verified, Miller said.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066