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Push to move up Sunday alcohol sales slow to take off

Pinellas County law prevents bars and restaurants from selling alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays. The same rule applies to retailers.
Pinellas County law prevents bars and restaurants from selling alcohol before 11 a.m. on Sundays. The same rule applies to retailers.
Published Apr. 23, 2016

With Pinellas County law delaying Sunday morning mimosas, gas station beer runs for boating trips and other weekend beverage needs, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is leading an effort to move up the hours for alcohol sales on the Sabbath.

Current law prevents bars and restaurants from selling alcohol from 3 to 11 a.m. on Sundays compared with 3 to 8 a.m. the rest of the week. Retail stores can begin selling at the same times in the mornings but must stop selling at midnight seven days a week.

The delayed Sunday hours inconvenience everyone from locals trying to buy a bottle of wine while morning grocery shopping to tourists looking to grab an early drink on vacation, according Ben Kirby, Kriseman's spokesman.

"This is an archaic law," Kirby said. "You can find it all over Florida and in the South and it's 2016. It's time to move ahead."

At this month's Pinellas County Mayors' Council meeting, Kriseman suggested the 24 city leaders send a letter to the County Commission on their united desire to change the law, but some mayors declined until discussing it further with their local governments. In the meantime, Kriseman is encouraging local mayors to write the County Commission individually with their opinions.

County Commission Chairman Charlie Justice said there is no rush to change the law, but he is interested in hearing feedback from the cities.

The county could vote to alter Sunday hours and allow cities to opt out of the change, but Justice said there is no timetable for when this may be discussed.

"Right now, it's waiting to see if this is a priority for our cities," Justice said.

The Clearwater City Council at a meeting this week said 8 a.m. Sunday alcohol sales would make sense for restaurants but agreed retail stores still shouldn't be able to sell until 11 a.m. The concern is that earlier retail hours would make it easier for people to bring drinks to the sand at the beach, which is illegal in Clearwater.

"Quite frankly, I know I'm going to sound like the ultraconservative on this, but sometimes you ought to be able to say no, you know?" Mayor George Cretekos said. "I don't know that we've had any kind of a big request from our industry to expand."

Clearwater police Chief Dan Slaughter said he does not believe earlier Sunday sales would cause more enforcement problems but emphasized the importance of the 3 a.m. cutoff.

"You need your package stores ending at midnight," Slaughter said, your bars ending at 3 (a.m.) … as far as earlier on Sunday morning to 8 a.m. or even 5 a.m., so your boaters and all that stuff can have access to purchasing, we don't perceive that would have an impact on law enforcement."

As of Friday, no city had sent a letter of opinion on the issue to the county, according to Della Klug, senior executive assistant to County Administrator Mark Woodard.

But at the April Mayors' Council meeting, Seminole Mayor Leslie Waters voiced opposition to the extended hours, according to a letter Kriseman sent Justice this month. Waters could not be reached Friday for comment.

Largo Mayor Woody Brown said his city is no hurry to take a position on the issue. In fact, Brown did not bring it up for discussion at the City Commission meeting Tuesday even in light of Kriseman's urgency on the topic at the April 6 Mayors' Council.

He did, however, sympathize with other poor planners, admitting he has had to wait a few hours to pick up beer on a Sunday morning before a Tampa Bay Buccaneers tailgate.

"I think there's bigger fish to fry out there," Brown said. "It's not something I'm going to fight for, but I'd have no problem with it changing."

Hillsborough County's Sunday blue law is the same as Pinellas County's, although customers across the bay can start buying one hour earlier, at 7 a.m., Monday through Saturday.

In Madeira Beach, where it is legal to drink alcohol on the sand, Mayor Travis Palladeno said he sees few drawbacks to earlier Sunday hours.

Palladeno said his commission will take up the issue soon, and he hopes to send a letter of support of change to the county.

"It's not the time of sales, it's if people consume too much," Palladeno said. "We have a family atmosphere out here, so if mom and dad want to have a glass of wine or a cool beer while on the beach with the kids, that's outstanding."

Contact Tracey McManus at tmcmanus@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.