March 4, 2010

Auto dealers oppose opening on Sundays

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Auto dealers expressed strong objection Thursday to a bill that would allow them to open on Sundays, saying it wouldn't increase sales and would hurt employee morale.

Rep. Don Pilon, D-Saco, said he sponsored the bill because cars are one of the last things that can't be bought on Sundays.

He said Mainers can gamble, buy alcohol or put a house under contract, but they can't buy a car.

''This puts Maine car dealers at a disadvantage with those in New Hampshire and Massachusetts who are open seven days a week,'' he said.

Representatives of major car dealers -- Adam Lee, Jack Quirk and Ray Haskell among them -- disagreed. On Thursday, they asked the Legislature's Business, Research and Economic Development Committee to reject L.D. 1701.

Lee, owner of Lee Auto Malls with 385 employees, said being open Sunday would burden sales staff and others who already work 70 hours a week.

''Being open on Sunday will add to their workload and not add to car sales,'' Lee said. ''Even the dealers don't support this, and there's not much we won't do to sell another car.''

Quirk, owner of Quirk Chevrolet in Portland, said customers like to browse on Sundays knowing they won't be approached by a salesperson.

''It's tradition for some families to look at cars on Sundays,'' he said. ''It's almost like tournament basketball.''

Pilon said the recession and its impact on car dealers convinced him to try to give dealers another way to sell vehicles.

He said his bill would not require dealers to be open on Sundays, but would merely allow it.

One dealer testified in support -- although he acknowledged he was in the minority.

''Not a week goes by when we're not asked, 'Are you open on Sunday?''' said Adam Arens of Patriot Subaru in Saco.

Some dealers who testified against the bill said they expressed the same opposition to a similar bill in 2002. They said Sundays are for spending time with families or participating in church or community activities.

House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, submitted testimony in support of the bill.

''The law is a holdover from the Blue Law days when retailers were prohibited from operating on Sundays,'' she wrote in her testimony. ''In these tough economic times, it is important that we give retailers and businesses every tool we can to thrive.''

But even though the law would be voluntary, Lee said the car business is too competitive for dealers to stand apart from the others.

''If you're closed when your competitors are open, it's bad business,'' he said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at:

scover@centralmaine.com

 

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