April 18, 2013

State backs loosening of blue laws in Maine

The latest bill would allow more stores to open for business on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

By GLENN ADAMS/The Associated Press

AUGUSTA - A bill that would double the selling space a business could have and legally open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter was touted Wednesday as a boost for business and drew the support of Gov. Paul LePage's administration.

The Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee heard testimony on L.D. 1197, which would allow stores with less than 10,000 square feet of interior selling space to open on those holidays.

Maine's so-called blue laws now bar stores from opening on those three days if they have more than 5,000 square feet.

The sponsor, Rep. David Johnson, R-Eddington, said the bill is intended to let small businesses expand without having to close on what many see as three potentially profitable holidays. He said he submitted the bill on behalf of a constituent, Doug Hawes, who replaced a convenience store in Holden with a larger grocery store and 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 the store, Hawes said, he had no idea that his new store would have to close on the three holidays.

Johnson said his bill is not intended to allow big chain stores to open on the three holidays, noting that the average size of a Walmart is 102,000 square feet.

"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, the department's legislative liaison, Doug Ray, told the panel.

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."

A previous measure, which was killed, sought to allow businesses with at least 5,000 square feet of interior selling space to open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, but set no limit on floor space.


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