Bill would allow vendors to sell liquor earlier

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AUGUSTA — To some shift workers in Maine, Sunday morning is like the afternoon when they knock off work. But they can’t knock back a cold one, at least not right away.

But that could change under a proposal legislators heard testimony on Wednesday that would roll back the legal start time for alcohol sales.

Under present Maine law, a business may not sell alcoholic beverages until 6 a.m. on weekdays, and 9 a.m. on Sundays. Rep. Paul Gilbert’s bill would make the starting time to sell alcohol 5 a.m. on any day of the week.

“The change of this law would not only be good for business, but it would make easier the lives of many hard-working Mainers,” Gilbert, a Democrat from the paper-mill town of Jay, told the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “In my district, and across the state, there are many workers whose shifts end before 5 a.m. These people should be able to buy alcohol without waiting until 6 a.m.”

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Gilbert said he submitted the bill after being contacted by a constituent who also owns a local business. The owner told Gilbert her business would benefit from having an extra hour in the day to sell alcoholic beverages to customers, a claim that was later backed up by a spokesman for the state’s convenience store trade association.

No one spoke against Gilbert’s bill, which represents a new rollback on Maine’s laws on Sunday sales of alcohol. In 1995, restaurants were given the go-ahead to serve liquor on Sunday mornings, largely to accommodate tourists who might like to enjoy a bloody mary or mimosa cocktail with their brunches.

Maine has a long history of workers working shifts in paper and textile mills and other manufacturing operations. But the committee was told Wednesday increasing numbers of workers are going on long, 12-hour shifts, which often end in the early-morning hours.

“These workers should not be denied their choice of beverage simply because they work at night,” Dick Grotton, president of the Maine Restaurant Association, told lawmakers.

Also speaking in favor of the bill was Andy Cashman, representing the trade association for Maine’s convenience stores. Cashman agreed with Gilbert that the bill would help business, saying many businesses in the highly competitive convenience store industry operate on very thin margins, and any boost in sales will help them.

Blue laws bar most Maine stores with more than 5,000 square feet from being open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

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