Liquor Laws Make Valentine's Day Blue

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Nisian Hughes / Getty

A couple enjoys a glass of wine on Valentine's Day.

For the first time in more than a decade, Feb. 14 is falling
 on a Sunday — and that means in 14 states and hundreds of
 cities and counties across the U.S., liquor laws could be hampering
 toasts — and sales.

So-called blue laws in states from Connecticut to Indiana restrict 
the sale of alcohol on Sunday, as do local regulations elsewhere. 
Arguments about repealing these laws broke out in 2009 as the
 recession swelled, and the promise of extra income started to weigh more heavily
 against religious reservations. Valentine's Day has exacerbated the
 issue in at least nine states, where restaurants and revenue-sensitive 
politicians would prefer not to lose out on the holiday cash.

Along with New Year's Eve and Mother's Day, Valentine's Day is one of 
the most profitable days of the year for dining establishments; seven
 other calendar days, including Super Bowl Sunday, have already been 
granted blue-law exemptions in some states. "We felt like Valentine's Day had
 just been overlooked," says Missouri State Representative Bill Deeken. 
In January, Deeken proposed "Love Legislation" that would allow
 restaurants and bars that lacked annual Sunday liquor licenses to be
 open and sell alcohol on Valentine's Day. Rob Agee, a Lohman, Mo., café 
owner who brought the issue to Deeken, estimates that the move could
 mean millions in extra sales for restaurants and hundreds of thousands of dollars in
 state revenue. The measure made it through two committees before being
 scuppered by House leaders, whom Deeken said worried the bill would 
appear frivolous to voters.

State Representative Larry Wilson, one of the only three people who 
voted against the bill, said he opposed it on moral grounds. "We
 shouldn't encourage people to partake of alcohol, especially on the 
Sabbath," he says, noting that passage of the bill would send a conflicting 
message to the public, since the legislature is currently working to strengthen state 
drunk driving laws.

On a local level, the push to undo the Sunday ban may face even stiffer 
opposition. Jerry Oberholtzer, mayor of Snellville, Ga., has been 
waging a six-year battle to legalize Sunday sales in hopes of bringing
 what he calls "white tablecloth restaurants" to town. But members of
 Snellville's First Baptist Church and others have thwarted his

The mayor had a brief victory in December when he was able to change
 an ordinance that finally allowed restaurants to serve on Sunday.
 Seven licenses were issued, and restaurants reported up to 20% 
increases in sales. But a local group filed suit challenging the 
legality of the process, and a judge issued an injunction weeks later suspending the licenses, after ruling that the issue of 
Sunday sales had to be taken to voters first. (On Feb. 9, the city appealed and Oberholtzer says he expects the issue to go
 to the state's Supreme Court.)
"Restaurants just lost Super Bowl weekend and now they're going to 
lose Valentine's Day," Oberholtzer says. "It's been devastating to 

The problem for Snellville is partly geographic: although 
alcohol can't be sold within the city limits on Sunday, it can be in the
 surrounding county, so restaurants can set up right outside town.

Robert Jenkins, a former Snellville councilman and one of the filers, 
supports the ban. "This is the Bible Belt," he says, "and a lot of 
folks still believe in keeping the Lord's Day holy. To a lot of 
people, buying whiskey and drinking on Sunday is not holy."

The examples go on. A request for allowing restaurants to sell alcohol this Valentine's Day in Oxford, Miss., was rejected without comment.
 In Connecticut, which is the only state in New England to still have a blue law
 prohibiting Sunday alcohol sales, mayors of the state's 
three largest cities petitioned unsuccessfully to have the law
 repealed — citing a 2009 study that suggested Connecticut was
 losing millions in tax revenue to its neighbors.

The study includes a 
crucial caveat: its analysis "focuses on the impact of tax policy and 
tax revenue for the state, not the social policy implications of 
allowing Sunday sales," it reads. Various studies have produced 
conflicting results about whether Sunday sales lead to more drunk 
driving or even more alcohol consumption, and those issues remain 
stumbling blocks — even when wine with Valentine's Day dinner is on the