Malloy to push for expanded alcohol sales

Hartford - Connecticut's prohibition of Sunday alcohol sales could become history this year if Gov. Dannel P. Malloy can convince the legislature to see the issue his way.

Malloy is scheduled to announce today in Enfield a proposal that would allow Sunday sales at package stores and grocers, his spokesman, Andrew Doba, said Friday.

The proposal also would extend the deadline for Monday through Saturday alcohol sales by one hour, to 10 p.m., and permit restaurants and bars to stay open and serve drinks until 2 a.m. every day of the week. Currently, those establishments must close by 1 a.m. on weeknights, 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings.

But for Suryakand Patel, owner of the Montauk Ave. Liquor Store in New London, Sunday is the only day of the week he can get some sleep.

"Everybody likes at least one day off, not for any enjoyment but to get some rest," Patel said Friday as the evening rush began. "I don't like to be open Sunday."

Opinions also differ in the state legislature. House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, told reporters Friday that members of both the Republican and Democratic caucuses have been divided on the alcohol sales issue. Malloy's coming forward with a proposal "might be the tipping point" in ending the ban, Cafero said.

"The governor's office, regardless of who holds it, has enormous powers and could be very influential in the passage of legislation," he said.

Malloy last year indicated his willingness to sign Sunday sales legislation, but the leading bill never emerged from the legislature's General Law committee. The governor - a Democrat working with a Democratically controlled legislature - is hoping for a different outcome this year by coming forward with the measure himself, Doba said.

"This is a different way to the same end," he said.

But many package store owners fear that a repeal would hurt their finances, as they would be compelled to open seven days a week to compete with large grocers for beer sales. Only package stores in Connecticut are allowed to sell liquor and wine.

When asked about the proposal, Paul Agranovitch, owner of the Universal Discount Package Store in Norwich, just smiled. It's a perennial issue he's heard since he opened in 1982, Agranovitch said, and one that makes no business sense.

"The proposal is to raise revenue for the state, but the reality is, it won't raise revenue," Agranovitch said Friday inside his 8,000-square-foot store.

He said consumers plan ahead for their Sunday alcohol consumption and that his Saturday sales just would shrink if he opened Sunday. When several snowstorms hit the region last winter, Agranovitch said, sales posted the day before the storm were similar to those on a Friday because people knew stores might close.

The state Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated last year that lifting the ban would increase annual alcohol sales by 2.8 percent and generate $3.6 million in additional state tax revenue.

"If I thought for a second we would improve sales, I'd be in favor of being open on Sunday," he said.

"The previous change from closing at 8 p.m. to closing at 9 p.m. is a microcosm of the Sunday issue," he said. "The same people that would come in 5 minutes before 8 now come in 5 minutes before 9. It just delays the issue."

Agranovitch runs a big store at 860 W. Main St. in Norwich, with up to six people working during busy hours. Those costs would carry over to Sunday, he said, with the same revenue. It will hurt smaller businesses, he said.

"This will push them over the edge," Agranovitch said. "By the time the dust settles, you haven't helped the economy by putting people on unemployment. There's nothing positive that will come out of it."

State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, had been opposed to Sunday sales out of a similar concern for the livelihoods of package store owners. But last year he changed his mind. He now considers it a "consumer choice issue," and is uncomfortable with how the ban extends a sort of protection to the liquor store business that other businesses in Connecticut don't receive.

Maynard said he doubts that Sunday sales will herald doomsday for mom and pop package stores because customers often develop a close affinity for their local shop. He also noted that package stores will retain exclusive rights in Connecticut to selling liquor and wine.

"If Sunday sales come, I am going to continue going to the small operators, and I think a lot of people will make the same choice," he said.

Malloy believes that giving Connecticut businesses the option to sell alcohol seven days a week will help them compete with stores in neighboring states such as Rhode Island.

Indeed, the lack of access means people do go elsewhere on Sundays, said Victoria Dryden, a New London resident. She's willing to drive, but it isn't convenient, she said. She's in favor of Sunday openings.

"If I have people suddenly come over for dinner or something on Sunday and I need a bottle of wine, I drive to Westerly, which is crazy, right?" Dryden said Friday as she waited in line at Patel's New London store. "It seems archaic."

j.reindl@theday.com

s.goldstein@theday.com

Background check

• The ban on Sunday sales is not considered a "blue law," which were first codified in Connecticut in 1650 and effectively ended by the late 1970s. Connecticut's Sunday sales ban was adopted in 1933 at the end of Prohibition.
• Connecticut remains the only state in the Northeast that prohibits selling alcohol on Sunday. A March 2011 Quinnipiac University Poll of Connecticut voters found that 66 percent were in favor of Sunday alcohol sales.

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POLL

Are you in favor of alcohol sales on Sundays?

Yes, it's about time

53%

No. It's not appropriate on Sundays

22%

Doesn't affect me. I plan ahead or don't drink

25%

Number of votes: 1620