Legislature lifts band on Sunday sales for 1 year

COLUMBIA — Since Oct. 15, 1692, South Carolina has forbidden shopping on Sundays in one form or another. Now the Legislature wants to scale back, at least for one year.

Lawmakers agreed to temporarily lift part of the "blue laws" for all retailers in the state. The laws have been modified in the past 300 years, since the time when they restricted all "worldly" labor and required church attendance, but business leaders have argued they're outdated all the same.

Starting July 1, pending Gov. Mark Sanford's blessing, retailers in Berkeley, Colleton and Dorchester counties will be able to join their neighbors in Charleston County with extended business hours on Sundays.

"We have six counties in the state that are out of the blue laws now, and I don't think that it has changed the morals in those counties," said Howard Duvall, executive director of the Municipal Association of South Carolina. "The blue laws are ancient, and we need to catch up with the times. People can still go to church. I think after one year, we'll find out the sun still rises in the East and we can live with the elimination of the blue laws."

In addition to Charleston, retailers in Horry, Beaufort, Georgetown, Greenville and Richland counties have been able to open when they please on Sundays by bringing in enough tax dollars to be exempt.

Retailers in the remaining 40 counties would qualify under the one-year provision to operate beyond the blue laws' designated hours of 1:30 to 6 p.m. The provision, however, would not exempt alcohol sales on Sundays, which also are prohibited by blue laws.

Store owners have been allowed to get permits to extend their hours on Sundays during the holiday season, and others have risked opening longer on Sundays because the laws aren't always enforced. Grocery stores and gas stations are among a few exceptions to the existing blue laws.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he'd prefer to give counties the choice to opt out of the blue laws but said it's an issue the Legislature most likely will take up again next year.

Mary Graham, senior vice president of public policy for the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, said blue laws unfairly affect businesses. "They don't make a lot of sense for the way society operates today," she said. "A lot of people work during the week and the weekend is the only time they have to do their shopping."