Blue Laws in the United States originated in Connecticut way back in the 1600s. We weren't even a country at the time. These religious laws concerned themselves with immoral behavior. Violators could be whipped and burned, or even killed for offenses such as playing dice, swearing, or working on the Sabbath. Originally thought to have been printed on blue paper, research has found that the term was first mentioned much later in 1781, and that its actual roots trace to "blue" meaning "overly strict", as in "bluenose".
While the Puritain religion has long since faded away, the blue laws have remained on the books and in many cases are still in effect. It was only as recently as 1994 that certain Massachusetts businesses could finally open before noon on a Sunday without having to ask permission from their local police chief. The actual wording of Massachusetts Title 20, Chapter 136 lists 55 specific types of businesses that can be open on a Sunday. They are pretty explicit entries; #51 is "The operation of a home video movie rental business." If your business isn't on that list, then if you open before noon on Sunday you could be legally charged with operating against the law.
Until 2004, it was completely illegal for a wine shop to open its doors on a Sunday. If you were out of Chardonnay and were planning on making a Chardonnay chicken dinner, too bad. Unless you wanted to take a drive up to New Hampshire or Vermont to get it.
Connecticut's laws on selling alcohol were just as archaic. According to Connecticut's Title 30 Section 91, alcohol can only be served on Christmas if it accompanies a hot meal. Bowling alleys that serve alcohol must do so in transparent glasses.
Even into the mid-2010s Connecticut was one of the few remaining states in the nation to retain their grip on Puritain laws, shielding their residents from the evils of drinking on Sunday. However, most people who wished to have a glass of wine with their Sunday meal didn't stop this practice because of the blue laws - they simply bought the wine on Saturday or made a cross-state-line trek to get their Riesling. The states that had the blue laws were feeling the resulting pinch where it hurt them most - in their pockets.
New York, Delaware, and Pennsylvania finally legalized sales on Sunday in the 2010s to ensure they got their cut of those sales instead of having their residents buy the liquor elsewhere. Some groups estimate that New York gained an additional 7% in alcohol tax revenue from this move. In a time of tightening budgets, that can be a substantial amount.
Even churches and anti-drunk-driving groups have stayed away from the buy-on-Sunday issue. They realize that whether or not someone buys on Sunday, it does not affect what both groups hope for - maintaining a moderate level of drinking, and not driking while driving. Consumers are vocal in wanting Sunday shopping for many reasons. Most buyers are too busy during the week to browse through their wine shop, while Sundays are the perfect day for roaming the aisles and examining the Chardonnays and Cabernets. Also, if you're throwing a last-minute party or planning a meal, grabbing those bottles of wine a few hours beforehand is often a necessity, not a convenience.
So as of 2017, there are no US states which have a state-wide blue law banning all alcohol sales on Sunday. Note that individual regions or towns can still enact restrictions for a variety of reasons. Here's a selection of a few New England laws, since this is the region the blue laws began in.
State liquor stores, open Sundays 6am - 1am. Chapter 15 -
Main Liquor Laws
Dept of Liquor Control licensed outlets, open Sundays 10am - 2am. Title 7 -
Vermont Liquor Laws
State liquor stores, open Sundays, no hours listed. Chapter 177 -
New Hampshire Liquor Laws
As of 2004, legal to sell on Sundays. Chapter 138 -
Massachusetts Liquor Laws
Shops licensed by each town. Title 30 -
Connecticut Liquor Laws
Shops licensed by each town. Open on Sundays. Title 3 -
Rhode Island Liquor Laws
The last state to end their blue laws was Minnesota, which finally passed a law effective July 2, 2017.
All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.