Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving Blue Laws

I had never heard of blue laws until I moved to Massachusetts in the early '90s. Moving from a state where grocery stores were open 24/7, I was astonished to learn that I had moved to a state where it was illegal for most retail stores to open before noon on Sundays. Massachusetts' blue laws have many exceptions, including "preparations for trials by lawyers" (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 136, § 6(40)), and they were amended by voter initiative in 1994, making it legal for retail stores to be open at any time on Sunday and certain legal holidays.

I left Massachusetts almost two years ago and hadn't thought much about blue laws since. So I was surprised to learn from this article that it is still illegal for a store, other than a convenience store or gas station, to open on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day. The article reports that the Whole Foods Market chain had been warned by the state of Massachusetts that it would face criminal charges if it was open Thanksgiving morning for last-minute shoppers.

Blue laws are also known as Sunday closing laws or "common day of rest laws." Although they have their origins in the Puritan 1600s, they are frequently justified as promoting secular values or protecting workers. These days, however, they are more likely to be the result of lobbying by businesses that do not want to open on Sundays or holidays. Whole Foods received a warning from the state, not because of complaints from employees or consumers, but because a competitor complained to the state's attorney general. The Shaw's legal department wrote:

Besides disadvantaging competitors, a Whole Foods opening would harm consumers, due to lack of choice in the marketplace for consumers to shop and compare prices for the best deal.

See In Mass., Thanksgiving Shoppers May Be 'Blue' — and in Violation of Law. It will be interesting to see if the voters agree with Shaw's, or if there will be another blue law initiative on the ballot in the near future.

Update: See what bk! has to say about blue thanksgiving.

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