HARTFORD -- Exhausting your supplies of wine, beer and distilled spirits won't be an issue this Memorial Day weekend, following a 28-6 vote in the state Senate Tuesday that sends the Sunday-sales bill to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Package stores and other retail sellers of alcohol, including groceries and supermarkets, would have the option to sell on Sundays and major holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, in a legislative attempt to compete with neighboring states.
But small package stores historically run by families may feel the strain of the extra day of work.
Expanded consumer purchases are expected to bring in a modest $5.2 million a year in additional tax revenue, when Connecticut leaves Indiana as the last state without Sunday retails sales of alcoholic beverages.
But the lawmakers who voted against the bill warned that owners of small package stores would be threatened by the legislation, which will take effect as soon as the governor signs it, most likely next week. Longer hours, flat sales and 15 percent higher operating costs could result.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who voted for the bill, said he wasn't fully supportive of the compromise legislation and its "inconsistencies," but it changed his long-held opposition to Sunday sales.
"The governor's bill would have devastated hundreds of small-business owners around the state of Connecticut, all in the name of consumer protection," McKinney said. "Ironically, if you look at the governor's bill, it did nothing to erase the monopoly that beer distributors have."
He said that tax hikes on alcohol in recent years are hurting Connecticut retailers more than the Sunday sales would help them. "I have yet to meet a package store owner who has said that their business will increase on Sunday and yet here we are telling them that we know how to run their business better than they do," McKinney said.
Instead of attacking the state's price support system for alcohol, as promoted by Malloy, a 15-member task force will study the issue this year and report back to the General Assembly.
The bill allows voluntary Sunday openings between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Store owners who are currently limited to two permits will be allowed to have three stores.
Also, one item per month could be offered to consumers at 10 percent below retailer cost.
Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, co-chairman of the General Law Committee, said the one-item discount is a limited test. "The governor, in theory, would have eliminated all pricing," Doyle said, praising the compromises that pushed the bill to approval. "The minimum pricing would be gone." Overall, Doyle said it's a good start.
"This bill is probably one of the most-radical and extensive reforms of our liquor statutes since the Great Depression," Doyle said.
Malloy, in a statement, said finally ending a long-standing blue law will be good for consumers.
"It's a measure that's long past due and a good first step to making our state's package stores more consumer friendly," Malloy said.
"Our current laws have cost Connecticut businesses millions of dollars as consumers have flocked over our borders in search of more convenient hours and lower prices," Malloy said. "Like many other initiatives I've put forward since taking office, this bill has a simple focus: making Connecticut competitive once again."
The governor still wants to work on lowering costs, he said.