Blue Laws Exist Today For Religious, Governance Issues

by Gabe Bullard on September 18, 2008

See a video interview with Gordon Jackson of Old Town Wine and Spirits.

Walk into a liquor store in the commonwealth on Sunday afternoon and you’ve already done something most Kentuckians can’t. Walk into Old Town liquors in Louisville on Sunday, and you’ll likely find the owner, Gordon Jackson.

“We cannot open before one and we have to close before nine,” he says.

Those are the only hours on Sunday when it’s legal to sell package liquor in Louisville. Liquor by the drink is also available at many restaurants.

“We initially closed at 6 on Sunday, but we found that once we opened until 9 there was a lot of business in those last few hours,” says Jackson.”

Other package liquor stores have been doing well on Sundays, too. Around the country, states that have repealed their blue laws have seen benefits. The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. estimates that in 2006,  12 states that had recently repealed their blue laws saw a $212 million impact from Sunday liquor sales.

About 5 million of those dollars were spent in Kentucky. Here, cities can vote to allow Sunday sales in restaurants, in liquor stores, or both. And since Louisville approved package sales in 2005, Jackson says Old Town has seen business pick up.

“Sunday being a big grocery day, a lot of people go out to the grocery store,” he says. “You know, wine and food seem to go together fairly well. So our wine sales on Sunday are strong.”

But others would rather see only holy wine being passed on Sunday.

“As a Christian I believe that one day should be set apart to be sanctified and holy to God,” says Pastor Randy Pace of the Family Worship Center in Shepherdsville. “I choose to do that on Sunday. That’s my personal belief.”

Pace doesn’t drink at all and when the Shepherdsville city council voted on a measure to allow alcohol to be served in restaurants on Sundays, Pace spoke out against it. It eventually failed.

“I hope that you don’t make me sound like a religious fanatic because I have beliefs I stand up for,” he says. “That’s the only issue that I can think of that we have had a visual presence in opposition to.”

“Most of the people who want restriction on alcohol and blue laws today, I think are doing out of a religious world view,” says Dr. Dave Bowman, senior lecturer in the history department at the University of Kentucky.

Bowman says blue laws have survived mainly because of religious beliefs and self-governance advocates. But since the 60s, blue laws, especially in the south, have been increasingly repealed.

“An awful lot of Southern regional tradition is brought into question during the civil rights movement,” he says. “At the same time as the southern economy is being brought into the mainstream.”

However, some temperance regulations will likely stay in place.

“In smaller towns and rural communities where orthodox Christianity, Methodists, some Presbyterians, some more Pentecostal faiths today, the churches of God, I think the desire to have blue laws will continue,” says Bowman. And it will continue to be a source of political controversy.”

Temperance groups will sometimes cite public health and other factors in their support of Sunday blue laws, but those arguments haven’t been effective everywhere, as the laws continue to be lifted in much of the country.

Closer to Louisville, it’s a different story. Nearly half of Kentucky remains completely dry, and blue laws have been lifted almost exclusively in the central and northern parts of the state. Across the river,  Indiana is one of 15 states that bans all Sunday alcohol sales.

Supporters of Sunday sales in Indiana and Kentucky are pushing for the repeal of blue laws. But retailers like Gordon Jackson at Louisville’s Old Town Liquors don’t want a repeal of all alcohol restrictions,  like the one here that bans everything but beer from grocery stores.

“I have to be opposed to it,” says Jackson. “You know, we have a license to vend alcohol and one of the main things that concerns us is the sale of minors and the sale of alcohol who are operating cars inebriated and I think that’s a judgment call that requires a certain amount of maturity and I’m not sure their staff has that kind of maturity.”

And that’s something he has in common with blue law advocates.

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