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Editorial: Ever on Sunday / Treating state stores like real merchants

Friday, November 22, 2002

Without fuss or fanfare, the General Assembly is taking some pro-consumer steps on the sale of wine and spirits in Pennsylvania. It's about time.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved a measure that would let the Liquor Control Board open for Sunday sales up to 10 percent of its 630 state stores. If the Senate and Gov. Mark Schweiker go along next week, the new law will bring those stores into the 1970s. That's when the state Supreme Court threw out many of Pennsylvania's "blue laws," centuries-old statutes that prohibited certain activities on Sundays.

The idea behind the blue laws was that if business was shut down on Sunday, more people would make their way to church. But society has changed dramatically since the 1950s -- and two-career households, greater cultural and religious diversity and a 24/7 work world have thwarted the notion of a single day of rest for a nation of 280 million people. Besides, why should real church-goers need the crutch of the state to pursue their faith?

The proposed Sunday liquor sales would be a two-year trial, whose effects will be studied by the state before being made permanent. Sales that day would be allowed only between noon and 5 p.m. While not the hours of a regular retail store, it's a start.

The same bill would allow the LCB to hold wine tastings in state stores. Imagine that -- being able to sample wines before buying them, as customers do in other states. Could a wine aisle in the supermarket be far behind?

Although the Post-Gazette opposes the general principal of a government liquor monopoly, we'll take the creeping consumer improvements that Harrisburg allows. Who knows? Someday Pennsylvanians may wake up and find their liquor stores in the hands of private merchants, like those in other states, who are interested in selling to their customers, teaching them about the merchandise and competing on price and service.

It's called free enterprise, the hallmark of American business, and legislators like to say Pennsylvania is pro-business unless, of course, it's the liquor business.

On Sundays, 23 states already permit the sale of liquor, with the neighboring states of West Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey allowing wine and spirits, and Ohio allowing wine. Pennsylvania, as usual, is playing catch-up. But even change that's overdue is change that's good.

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