HOUSTON - The biggest liquor store in Houston can you sell you pretty much any kind of booze you want to buy. Just don’t ask them to sell it to you on Sunday.
“Vodka?” says Scott Chanin, a wine consultant at Spec’s Liquor Warehouse. “We got some of the best vodkas and tequilas in the world. Boutique bourbons, single malt scotches ...”
The list runs as long as the aisles of the massive alcohol emporium in midtown Houston, where people push around shopping carts stacked with bottled spirits. Wine lovers make regular pilgrimages here to replenish their stockpiles with cases of often obscure vintages. Spec’s stands a lucrative monument to discount booze.
And yet, its owners adamantly oppose legislation that would allow them to open on Sundays.
“We’re against it,” says Herman Key, a spokesman for the liquor store chain. “We run a family company. And we have lots of families that work for us. And we think that they should have a family day off on Sunday.”
The legislation sponsored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, would roll back one of the last Texas “blue laws” mandating that certain businesses can open only six days a week. But the proposal brings up a curious conflict in which a couple of industries actually favor regulations that ban them from doing business on Sundays.
Blue laws trace back to the colonial days of American history, basically reserving one day a week as a sabbath on which businesses closed and families presumably had a chance to rest and attend church. During the last few decades, states and municipal governments have generally abandoned most of their blue laws.
In Texas, most of those laws were repealed in 1985, but the restrictions on liquor stores and car dealers remain.
Now, oddly enough, the industries themselves are some staunchest opponents of efforts to repeal those laws.
“We have friends across the states where that’s happened,” Key says. “And they’ve found that initially they do get a bump, but over the course of a year or less it spreads their six days over seven.”
For all their protestations about taking a day off for their families, business owners in some industries also have a serious economic incentive for backing blue laws. Customers won’t buy more cars just because car dealers are open every day of the week. Neither will most hard liquor drinkers buy more bourbon or scotch just because the liquor stores are open Sundays.
Indeed, while the Texas Legislative Budget Board in 2011 estimated changing the law could generate roughly $3.7-million in new tax revenue each year, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said it wouldn’t raise much money.
But supporters of the repeal aren’t pitching it as a money-maker.
“It’s a safety issue, it’s a pro-consumer issue and it’s a free enterprise issue,” Thompson says. “Most people are shopping on Sunday and that’s the biggest shopping day there is.”
Thompson argues that allowing bars to sell liquor by the drink but banning retailers from selling liquor by the bottle makes no sense.
“People who drink alcohol spirits on a Sunday can only go to a restaurant or a bar,” she argues. “And you can’t say, ‘By the way, give me a couple to go home.’ I want to make sure that those persons are able to carry alcohol home and not worry about getting behind that steering wheel.”
Nonetheless, the legislation’s fate is unclear. A similar bill backed by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, died in the last session of the Texas Legislature.