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Most liquor store owners say they'll open today

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Local package store owners bracing for statewide Sunday liquor sales today say they aren't expecting a big boost in business but feel they must stay open to remain competitive.

Eleven out of 13 package-store personnel contacted last week indicated they would open today during the first day Sunday liquor sales will have been allowed since 1933. One owner with a prior commitment said he would begin a seven-day schedule starting Memorial Day weekend.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed into law this month a bill that made Sunday alcohol sales legal, including the sale of beer at supermarkets. The bill, which overrode decades of Prohibition-era laws and left Indiana the only state still banning Sunday alcohol sales, also allows liquor stores to be open Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, as well as on Monday holidays after any Fourth of July, Christmas or New Year's Day that falls on a Sunday.

"I have no idea what to expect," said Jeff Pierce, owner of Norwich Wine & Spirits. "I think people might come in for the novelty of it."

Elasa Abarca, sole proprietor of The Wine Merchant in New London, was the only liquor-store owner contacted holding off on Sunday sales.

"It's my only day off," she said. "I don't need to work seven days a week."

Divyesh Patel at Ocean Discount Wine & Spirits in New London, son of owner Ashok Patel, had a similar feeling, but the store will nevertheless be open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today.

"Everybody's open," he said. "It's the competition."

Stores can open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Sundays, but several establishments are shaving off an hour or two to save on payroll costs or allow owners more time off. Some said Sunday sales was only an experiment and might last only through the summer if sales taper off in the fall.

Package store owners in tourist areas appeared to be more pleased with the Sunday sales law than others in more remote locations.

"We never were against that part of the bill," said Mary Edgerton, co-owner of Universal Package Store in Noank. "With all the BYOB restaurants and five boatyards in the area, we should do well."

"I will get more sales out of it because of my location (near) the (Mohegan Sun) casino," said Patti-Jean Olsen-Fraser, owner of Shantok Package Store in Uncasville. "I think it's a headache, but the time has come. ... I knew this time was coming."

Pamela DiBiagio, co-owner of Bozrah Wine & Spirits, said she was not happy to open on Sunday but will do so "because everyone else is."

She predicted that Saturday nights, which used to be extra busy, may not be quite so crazy anymore. But she didn't expect big sales on Sundays.

"I think it's just going to spread out (sales) over more days," DiBiagio said. "With these tough times, people have only so much to spend."

Joe Kiah, who owns Village Wine & Spirits in Niantic, predicted Sunday sales would add 15 percent to his payroll costs and another 10 percent to energy bills while bringing in only 1 percent to 2 percent more sales.

"People are just going to split their sales between Saturday and Sunday," he said.

Alan Wilensky, owner of Max's Package Store in East Lyme and president of the Connecticut Package Stores Association, said he likely will pick and choose Sundays to be open. Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends, along with the Christmas holidays, New Year's and football playoff dates might do better than the rest of the year, he predicted.

Owners will have to experiment with hours of operation and Sunday openings to figure out what makes the best financial sense, Wilensky said.

"There will be no extra consumption," he said. "There will be a shifting of the business, not an increase in business."

Wilensky predicted state residents will still cross the border to Rhode Island and Massachusetts, which have much lower gas prices and, in the Bay State's case, no sales tax on alcohol.

"The governor could have done as much or more (to boost liquor sales) if he took the sales tax off the table and lowered the gas tax," Wilensky said.


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