A Zephyrhills City Council majority is toasting economic competition. Monday night, on a 3-2 vote, the council expanded alcohol sales on Sundays by two hours. The logical vote reversed the stance from a year ago, when the council declined to act on a proposed ordinance to allow alcohol sales to begin at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. Sundays.
Not so this time. The approved ordinance brings the city rules in line with the hours of alcohol sales permitted in Pasco County and the cities of Dade City, New Port Richey and Port Richey. More importantly, it eliminates a competitive disadvantage that had hamstrung the city's grocers, convenience stores and restaurants.
The origin of the Sunday regulations, known as blue laws, dates to 17th century New England, when the Puritans placed people in the stocks and whipped them in the public square for breaking rules on the Sabbath. A year ago, a convenience store owner asked the City Council to consider relaxing the blue laws, telling the city how he lost sales every Sunday because customers would go outside the city to buy bread, milk and other staples at the same time they grabbed their six-packs of beer.
Other locales have said moving the sales start time to 11 a.m. was intended to benefit sports bars that attract customers to watch Sunday football or NASCAR races, restaurants offering mimosas or Bloody Marys with brunch and retailers selling beer or wine.
A year ago, the council did not offer similar consideration after local clergy spoke against the expanded hours of alcohol sales. Monday, only council members Manny Funes and council president Lance Smith objected.
Funes told the Times the people he represents identify Sundays with church and not picking up a six-pack. That's only partially true. Funes also represents the business owners who pay higher property taxes to be within the city limits and who collect sales taxes that benefits the city's bottom line. He shouldn't allow them to lose customers because of an archaic law that has been nearly universally modified in Pasco County.
Port Richey, for instance, relaxed its alcohol sale rules seven years ago following similar actions by local governments in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. More governments soon followed suit. Pasco County later agreed to let a Land O'Lakes nudist resort extend its alcohol sales until 4 a.m. on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, when Tampa was host to the Super Bowl.
Allowing alcohol sales to begin two hours earlier on Sundays isn't going to diminish church attendance nor promote irresponsible behavior. It will simply allow some city businesses to compete fairly with their counterparts outside the municipal limits.