Berkeley retailers could lose the blues

Retailers like this Wal-Mart in Goose Creek won’t have any issues with limits on Sunday hours if a new ordinance is passed that suspends a state blue law originating from the Colonial era.

Shops and retailers open on Sunday morning in Berkeley County may have been breaking the law.

But that may be changing soon.

On Monday, County Council took the first step toward ending the Colonial-era blue laws restricting commerce by voting unanimously on the initial reading of an ordinance to suspend the law. It will have to pass two more readings to go into effect.

State law prohibits stores from opening before 1:30 p.m. Sundays, with some restrictions, but allows counties to suspend that law by ordinance. Grocery stores and gas stations are among the exceptions.

The law carries a fine of up to $250 for a first offense and up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

“It’s a law that people are obviously not following,” said Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule. “It’s not being enforced, so there are no repercussions. At the same time, are there people out there that are not doing it because of the law, just in case? Perhaps.”

The state law allows for sales of certain items, such as swimwear and undergarments, but prohibits merchandise such as paint, appliances jewelry and piece goods.

Many residents said Monday they didn’t even know the law still existed.

“I can’t recall a time that I tried to go shopping and found the store closed,” said Becky Rhodes, 46, of Moncks Corner. “I remember hearing about blue laws when I was a child, and I remember not being able to shop on Sundays then, but I didn’t know we still had them.”

April Nguyen said she didn’t know about the law either. She owns a nail shop in an unincorporated area of the county.

“We open later on Sunday, but before 1:30,” she said. “Many stores do.”

Blue laws in some form have existed in South Carolina for about 300 years, according to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

The law does not apply to Charleston County because it collects at least $900,000 in accommodations tax.

It also gives counties the authority to suspend them. Stores are allowed to open before 1:30 p.m. on Sunday in Dorchester County, according to County Administrator Jason Ward.

“The law on the books right now hinders businesses from operating and we want to make sure that they can operate,” Mule said. Lifting the work ban, according to the ordinance, will “promote a healthy and competitive local economy and encourage the creation of new jobs.”

The proposed law also says businesses are not required to open on Sundays and employees who are “conscientiously opposed to Sunday work” cannot be forced to work.

“It’s really just a very antiquated law,” said County Deputy Superintendent Tim Callanan. “I didn’t even realize it was still on he books.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.