A Monday Christmas Tests Blue Laws in South Some South Carolina counties are being asked to suspend their "blue laws" that restrict shopping hours on Sundays. Merchants want to open early on the day before Christmas. Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year, and that can be bad news if you happen to be a merchant in South Carolina.
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A Monday Christmas Tests Blue Laws in South

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A Monday Christmas Tests Blue Laws in South

A Monday Christmas Tests Blue Laws in South

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Christmas Eve falls on Sunday this year, and that can be bad news if you happen to be a merchant in South Carolina. More than 30 counties in that Bible Belt State have so-called blue laws restricting the hours that stores can open on Sundays. Merchants are afraid that they'll miss out on last minute shoppers the day before Christmas. So in some counties, they're trying to persuade leaders to make an exception to the law.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: For all the attention the day after Thanksgiving gets is the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Merchants say the day that ends the season is equally important, that's the day before Christmas, December 24th. And at a sporting goods store in Aiken County, South Carolina, Bobby Sheridan(ph) says that day normally brings in a flood of shoppers looking for last minute gifts.

Mr. BOBBY SHERIDAN: Christmas Eve typically is our second best day of sales and we do 50 percent of our sales in the last seven days before Christmas.

HOCHBERG: This year though, Sheridan worries this Christmas Eve's sales will fall short, because Aiken has a blue law that bans most stores from opening their doors before 1:30 on Sunday afternoons. Sheridan says the law has always been an annoyance to retailers but will be especially costly now, as South Carolinians drive across the state line to Georgia to do their Christmas Eve shopping.

Mr. SHERIDAN: Christmas Eve being such a big day in stores over in Augusta, I'm pretty sure they will be open at 8:00 in the morning. And say you don't want to give your customers an excuse to go somewhere else because well, yeah, I would have come to you but you weren't open.

HOCHBERG: Because of concerns like that, merchants in several South Carolina counties are asking local leaders to temporarily repeal Sunday sale's bans for Christmas Eve day.

It's a request that's receiving a mixed response. In Aiken, the county board voted this week, to keep the ban in place, saying Sunday morning should be reserved for church. But elsewhere, politicians have agreed to let stores open early.

In Orangeburg County, council member Johnny Wright says lifting the December 24th ban is simply a way to keep up with modern consumers.

Mr. JOHNNY WRIGHT: People, nowadays, shop all the time, all night, early on Sunday morning, shopping. You know, it's just different from the times when I was coming up, you know, 12 o'clock everything is just dark. You can't find nothing open, but that's changed.

HOCHBERG: Even before this round of holiday repeal, South Carolina's blue laws have been getting weaker in recent years. The Sunday morning sales ban used to apply statewide but now it's a county-by-county issue.

And even places that maintain the ban now exempts stores like supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies. Still the traditional blue laws dating back to 1885 have plenty of supporters, Oran Smith heads the Palmetto Family Council, a Christian advocacy group.

Mr. ORAN SMITH (Palmetto Family Council): If you have Christmas shopping left to do, and are faced with a question of whether to go to church or whether to get there for the early bird special, you might be tempted to do the shopping and worry about church later, and that will be unfortunate. I am sorry to see how our state changed that much so quickly.

HOCHBERG: A recent study by economists at Notre Dame and MIT concluded church attendance does indeed drop slightly when blue laws are repealed. But South Carolina business groups say the laws cost the state retailers some $50 million a year.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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