Another Look at Blue Laws

David Harsanyi of The Denver Post wrote a fine article for today calling for the repeal of the blue laws — the prohibition of Sunday liquor sales at stores — as well as the restrictions on grocery-store sales of liquor and liquor-store sales of food.

But not everybody is convinced. On November 30 I received the following e-mail:

Dear Sir,

I recently opened a liquor store (March 2007) in Pueblo, CO. I am not a rich man. I have my life savings and a 2nd mortgage on my home invested in my modest, one employee (me) store. I have been working 6 days a week 13hrs a day for 8.5 months to make this place a success. It will be another year before I recoup all of my start-up losses.

Wine accounts for 50% of my sales, Beer accounts for about 35%. I am in a plaza with a King Soopers 100′ from my door. I had to sign a 5yr lease to get this location. I started this store under existing laws. I’ve staked my future on it. I’m 53 years old.

If the Blue Laws are repealed and Grocer’s are allowed to sell wine and beer that is not 3.2%, I will be ruined. I could not compete with their buying power and and their employee base that would allow them to stay open 16hrs/7days. I will lose my life’s savings and my house.

Can you explain to me how your desire to buy wine on Sunday in a grocery store, justifies ruining my life?

Randall Tierney
Turtles Wine & Spirits
Pueblo, CO

Following is my reply:

The simple fact is that, by sanctioning the blue laws and related statutes, you are violating the individual rights of other store owners and customers in this state. Whether or not the repeal of the blue laws and related liquor laws inconveniences you, those laws are morally wrong. According to the logic of your excuses, no protectionist law (or any unjust law) may ever be repealed, for those protected by political force would lose their unjust advantage over others. Your argument amounts to the claim that the unjust redistribution of wealth in the past warrants unjust redistribution of wealth in the future.

Moreover, you went into business knowing about the existing blue (and related) laws, and if you performed due diligence then you also know that people have been trying to repeal those laws for years. If you did not plan for the possibility of a change in those laws, then you simply didn’t do your homework, and you should not force others to suffer continued injustice to pay for your lack of foresight.

Nevertheless, I simply do not believe your claim that the repeal of the blue (and related) laws will necessarily ruin you financially. Can’t you compete on service and selection to fill a niche market? If you cannot compete on an open market — if you do require the force of politicians to harm your would-be competitors — then you do not deserve to be in business. On the other hand, if you can persuade customers to do businesses with you even when they are free to do business with all other stores willing to sell to them, then — and only then — will you have earned your success.

3 thoughts on “Another Look at Blue Laws”

  1. Just yesterday (Dec 3rd,2007), the International Herald Tribune ran an article about such laws in France. There too, small business want the laws to remain, because it gives them an advantage, by crippling larger stores.

    Small stores often find it uneconomical to work the long hours that larger stores keep. The large store can go from having 50 people at peak hours to having 10 late at night. The small guy can’t go below 1 person, so he’s not able to scale down. The laws cripple the big stores (to some extent), thus removing their competitive advantage by fiat.

    Personally, I would empathize with this guy if he were to make the right principled argument. Suppose he were to say that he realizes that these laws are incorrect, and should be abolished, but that businessmen who have invested money, based on the current rules should be given some time to adjust. At least that would be an argument from principle.

  2. If the politicians have the power to say no liquor sales on Sunday, then what would stop them from saying no liquor sales on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, then what side would Mr. Tierney be on? I don’t think the government should regulate what hours any business is allowed to be open, because once you let the government dictate something like that simply because in the current instance it works in your favor, from that point forward you are dependant on the whims of the politicians to continue to act in your favor. Personally, I don’t want my fate in the hands of politicians and if I were in his position I would be approaching the politicians not to say “protect me”, but rather to say “what gives you the right to tell me when I can and cannot have my business open? What gives you the right to tell me what I can and cannot sell?”. He may be able to compete if the government were to remove all regulation as right now they limit the times he is allowed to be open, the days he is allowed to be open, what other products he is allowed to sell in his store, who is allowed to purchase his products, etc. I could think of a lot of innovative business models that might work, but are currently prohibited by law.

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