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Shoppers Love Sunday Sales, But Others Mourn Loss of Quiet Way of Life

February 11, 1991

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ Joanie Foley loves Maine’s newest freedom: the ability to shop on Sundays in large supermarkets and department stores.

″It’s so much more convenient to shop on Sundays. I love it,″ said Foley, a switchboard operator for the UNUM Corp., an insurance company based in Portland. ″It just gives you more time.″

But others in Maine and North Dakota, the last two states to repeal so- called ″blue laws″ outlawing Sunday shopping at large stores, mourn the loss of a quieter way of life.

″I’d like to see the state stay as it is,″ said Mayor John Freije of Mayville, N.D. ″I like to see people go to church together on Sundays. I like to see families be together, relax together, instead of running around in the mall.″

In the November election, Maine voters repealed the state’s blue law outlawing Sunday shopping at large supermarkets and department stores. The change took effect Dec. 30.

North Dakota, the only other state that still had a ″blue law,″ scrapped its Sunday sales restrictions last week and shoppers took advantage of the change Sunday.

The change was so popular that the parking lot at the West Acres mall in Fargo started to fill by 11:30 a.m., a half hour before the mall opened.

Mall manager Fred Anderson said about 5,000 cars packed the parking lot by 2 p.m. with more than 12,000 customers.

″It’s about time we got into the 20th century. There are nine years left, and we just made it,″ said Cleone Jensen. He and his wife drove 250 miles from their home at Turtle Lake, N.D., to spend Sunday at West Acres.

While Sunday shopping means progress and economic prosperity to its supporters, others say it will ruin small towns and family time - and they are not ready to give up their battle.

In Mayville, 50 miles north of Fargo, Freije called Sunday shopping one of the dumbest things the people of North Dakota have done.

″There’s only so much money to go around,″ Freije said. ″If people can’t spend it in six days, they sure aren’t going to spend it in seven.″

One woman working in Grafton, N.D., said she didn’t like the new law. ″Now I have to work the only day my husband has off,″ she said.

In Maine, the end of the blue laws is taking a toll on some small businesses.

Mom-and-pop grocery store owners say Sunday shopping at big stores has slashed their sales. One small grocer in Bangor says the 75 percent drop he suffered in Sunday volume helped drive him out of business.

There’s even talk among some of the small, independent grocers about trying to get the Maine Legislature to reimpose restrictions on Sunday sales.

Under the old blue law, stores with less than 5,000 square feet of space were allowed to open for business on Sundays. That gave the mom-and-pop stores a virtual monopoly on the grocery business in Maine for one day a week.

Now they’ve lost that edge against the big supermarket chains.

″My sales on Sunday have dropped 50 percent to 60 percent and that represents a 10 percent overall reduction in my business,″ said Craig Burgess, owner of Burgess Market in Bath.

Skip Ayer said the elimination of the blue law ″was a major, major factor″ in his decision to close his store, Skip’s Yankee Grocer, in Bangor on Jan. 16 after 20 years.

He said his store did 30 percent to 35 percent of its business on Sundays because it was the largest grocery open in the greater Bangor area. ″When the Sunday sales started, I dropped 75 percent of my sales for that day,″ Ayer said Thursday.

But the mom-and-pop grocers haven’t conceded the fight.

John Joyce, executive director of the Maine Grocers Association in Augusta, said there has been talk in the Statehouse that a bill will be introduced to restrict Sunday sales so large stores can’t open until noon.

″I would not be totally surprised to see legislation like that come down.″

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