Mass. 'Blue Laws' Change To Allow Liquor Stores To Sell Alcohol 2 Hours Earlier On Sundays

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Starting Sunday, Massachusetts' so-called "blue laws" will now allow liquor stores in the state to open at 10 a.m. — instead of noon — on Sundays to sell alcohol without needing to get any special permission from local authorities.

The new law creating the expanded hours for alcohol sales won approval in the waning days of this year's legislative session. This puts the state in line with the hours allowed on Sundays in Rhode Island and Connecticut.

In New Hampshire and Vermont, doors open as early as 6 a.m. on Sundays.

WBUR's Sharon Brody spoke with Peter Drummey, a librarian for the Massachusetts Historical Society, about the change to the state's centuries-old law. Hear the full interview on the audio player above.

Interview Highlights:

On How Massachusetts 'Blue Laws' Originated And How They've Evolved:

Peter Drummey: "'Blue laws' date back to the 17th century — to the founding of New England. And they were social controls. The idea was people then were trying to protect the community, rather than the individual. So they would be concerned — in terms of drinking — about public drinking, but not about drinking itself.

One of the original 'blue laws,' in fact, was a price control, so you couldn't be charged too much for a drink when you went to a tavern. So the laws today have sort of turned that around. So the idea today is, the Sunday closing laws, are that there won't be unwholesome activity on Sunday. That Sunday will be a common day of rest set aside for wholesome recreation. These are the ideas behind 'blue laws' today.

On How The Courts Have Looked At 'Blue Laws':

PD: "In 1961, the Supreme Court decides that even those these 'blue laws' have their origin in protection of religious practices back in the 17th and 18th century, in fact, this idea of a common day of rest is legal and can be protected, and we can have 'blue laws' that prevent the sale or activities on Sunday — the sale of anything — but sale of liquor on Sundays [in this case]."

On Whether He Plans To Run To The Liquor Store Early Sunday:

PD: With my feet firmly in the 17th century, I'm going out and looking for that price-controlled penny for a quart of beer or ale. I think that we sort of our honoring our forefathers by doing so."

This article was originally published on October 26, 2014.

This segment aired on October 26, 2014.

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Sharon Brody News Anchor
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekend mornings. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.



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