Massachusetts: House okays bill to allow retail alcohol sales on Sundays

By Colleen Quinn March 10, 2014
Game-day football tailgaters and other weekend event planners in Massachusetts would be able to buy beer and alcoholic beverages on Sunday morning rather than waiting until noon, under legislation that has cleared the Massachusetts House.

On voice vote and without debate, the House last Wednesday approved a bill (H 228) that would legalize Sunday morning alcohol sales starting at 10 a.m. - two hours earlier than allowed under current law.

Rep. Elizabeth Poirier, one of the sponsors of the legislation, said she and a few other lawmakers have been pushing for earlier alcohol sales for years. Poirier, a Republican from North Attleborough, said it will particularly help retailers who border Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

"It makes a huge difference, in particular for us, on days when there are Patriots games. People go to a game and tailgate" and they are unable to buy beer and wine before they leave for the game, Poirier said.

The bill, also sponsored by Rep. Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge) and Rep. Steven Howitt (R-Seekonk), is now before the Senate Committee on Ethics and Rules, chaired by Sen. Stanley Rosenberg of Amherst.

Poirier said residents who live close to the Rhode Island border will drive 20 minutes out of their way to buy alcohol earlier on Sunday morning before heading back to Gillette Stadium for the game.

"So they go to Rhode Island and they spend a lot of money," she said. "While they are there, they put gas in their car; they buy food. Same thing happens up north. They can just go over the border and get whatever they want, whenever they want."

Howitt, who represents Seekonk near the Rhode Island border, said the Ocean State last year eliminated the sales tax from liquor, but not beer and wine, and permitted stores to open at 10 a.m. The changes in Rhode Island caused Massachusetts retailers near the state line to lose sales, Howitt said.

"We have liquor stores that are a matter of feet from the Rhode Island line," he said.

Liquor store owners have told Howitt they have a rush of people lined up to buy alcohol at noon, before sales die down in the late afternoon. If stores open earlier, owners say they would likely close earlier, he said. This would allow them to keep labor costs the same, and give employees a chance to be home sooner, he added.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, called the move long overdue.

Massachusetts slowly began phasing in alcohol sales on Sundays more than 20 years ago.

In 1990, alcohol sales were allowed the Sunday immediately preceding Christmas Day and the Sunday immediately following New Year's Day. Retailers in Middlesex, Worcester or Essex counties operating in communities within 10 miles of the New Hampshire border were also allowed to sell alcohol any Sunday, but not before noon, according to the association. In 1991, Franklin County was added to the list. In October 1992, holiday sales on Sundays started at Thanksgiving, and Berkshire County was added to the list for Vermont border communities.

In November 2003, liquor sales were allowed statewide on Sundays.

Early sales will alleviate some of the frustration consumers feel on Sunday mornings when they are unable to buy everything they need while running errands, Hurst said.

"Why even do it at 10?," Hurst questioned. "Every other day of the week there is no beginning hour. This is the frustration consumers have."

Hurst said earlier sales will particularly help convenience stores and grocers that stock alcohol and are already open Sunday mornings.

Poirier said liquor stores and other retailers who sell alcohol are not obligated to open earlier, under the legislation. They would have a choice.

"It is an option. None of these store owners should feel put upon by this," Poirier said. "We feel very strongly this will be an economic boost to our state."

"This is really a good thing. Hopefully it will give a boost to both the small package stores and large ones," Poirier added.