Let take-out stores sell alcohol on Sunday

We understand the frustration of Lancaster County stores that are restricted from selling beer and wine on Sunday for off-premise consumption. But complaining about the law won’t do much good.

Store owners who want to sell beer and wine and customers who want buy it on Sunday at grocery stores, quick stops and other outlets need to lobby for a change in the law in Lancaster County. Better yet, state lawmakers should change the law to allow Sunday take-out sales of beer and wine statewide.

The issue was raised recently when the state Department of Revenue hand-delivered letters to 66 Lancaster County businesses last month clarifying the law. The letter went to businesses with permits to sell beer and wine for off-premise consumption Monday through Saturday.

But the letter reminded business owners that it still is illegal for them to sell beer and wine “between the hours of 12 o’clock Saturday night and sunrise Monday morning.” If they do so, they can expect a visit from agents with the State Law Enforcement Division, who will issue them citations.

Revenue agents decided to start with the educational approach because of concerns that many business owners might have misinterpreted the law. In a 2012 referendum, Lancaster County voters approved a change in the law to allow restaurants and other eateries to serve alcoholic beverages on Sunday to be consumed inside the establishments.

But that did not apply to alcohol sold for off-premise consumption. Nonetheless, a number of outlets began selling take-out beer and wine on Sunday, and sales at some places were brisk.

Following the clampdown by the Department of Revenue, some owners now complain that customers will take their business to York County or the city of Chester, where Sunday alcohol sales are legal at both restaurants and convenience stores. But the only way to deal with that problem is to change the law.

Similar frustration helped fuel changes in local “blue” laws in York County, first in cities such as Rock Hill and Fort Mill and later countywide. Restaurant owners were the first to complain that they were losing customers to Charlotte, where restaurants could serve alcohol on Sunday.

Developers also argued that being able to serve alcohol on Sunday was essential to attracting new chain restaurants to the area. Many chains won’t even consider moving to an area where Sunday alcohol sales are banned because alcohol represents such a significant percentage of the profit margin.

Once alcohol sales were approved at restaurants, other referendums soon legalized take-out sales from convenience stores and grocery stores. And the rise in crime and auto accidents on Sunday predicted by some critics of the change never materialized.

Lancaster County could pursue its own countywide referendum on Sunday take-out sales. But we think the time has come for the Legislature to create a uniform law statewide that would give store owners the option to sell beer and wine on Sunday if they choose.

It would be voluntary. No store owner would be forced to sell alcohol on Sunday, and no customers would be forced to buy it.

Clearly, though, as Lancaster store owners have experienced, there is a market for beer and wine on Sunday, and not being able to sell it can hurt business.

The old blue laws are archaic. Consumers can shop for just about anything at local stores – or online – seven days a week.

Why not alcohol?

In summary

Rather than require cities and counties to hold referendums, the Legislature should pass a uniform statewide law allowing stores to sell alcohol for off-premise consumption on Sunday.