AUGUSTA — A bill that would double the allowable selling space a business could have to legally open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter was touted Wednesday as a boost for Maine businesses and drew the support of Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.
The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee heard testimony on a bill, L.D. 1197, to allow stores with less than 10,000 square feet of interior selling space to be open on those holidays. Maine’s so-called blue laws bar stores from being open on three days it they have more than 5,000 square feet.
The sponsor, Rep. David Johnson, R-Eddington, said the bill is intended to let small businesses that can expand to do so without having to close on what many businesses see as three potentially profitable holidays. He said he submitted the bill on behalf of a constituent, Doug Hawes, who had replaced a small convenience store in Holden with a larger grocery store, but because of the existing law can no longer open on the three holidays.
“All three days were extremely, extremely lucrative for us,” Hawes, co-owner of G&M Market in Holden, said after appearing before the committee. Before he expanded, Hawes said, he had no idea his new store would be required to close on the three holidays because of the law.
Johnson said his bill is not intended to allow big chain stores to be open on the three holidays, noting that the average size of a Wal-Mart is 102,000 square feet, roughly 10 times the size of a store his bill is intended to address.
“We want Maine-owned businesses to expand. We want them to be successful. If they are able to expand their square footage, should they have to worry about not being able to be open three days a year?” said Johnson.
The state Department of Economic and Community Development supports Johnson’s bill, department legislative liaison Doug Ray told the committee. He said it “addresses one of the last vestiges of Maine’s antiquated blue laws,” most of which were abolished in the early 1990s. Ray said that under the current law, Maine is “penalizing a small business owner for success.”
Ray said he hopes Johnson’s bill can serve as a compromise with another, more far-reaching bill with a similar intent that was killed earlier in the session. The previous measure sought to allow a business with at least 5,000 square feet of interior customer selling space to open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but set no upper limit on floor space.
“We hope (the new) bill has a different outcome, as it is much more limited and targeted to help many Maine small businesses compete,” Ray said.
No one spoke in opposition to Johnson’s bill, but the Retail Association of Maine took a neutral stance.
“Simply, we have members on both sides of the issue,” said the retail group’s executive director Curtis Picard.