Never On Sunday

Some of you are old enough to remember when most businesses were closed on Sundays. Particularly in small towns, the sidewalks were still rolled up, and most streets, unless they led to a church.  I know, not everyone in America is a Christian, but these restrictions were originally developed as a result of the Christian faith.

I can remember those days.  The “closed on Sunday” practice came from “blue laws” that not only regulated what businesses could be open on Sunday, but what items could be sold. You could fill up your car or buy a loaf of Wonder Bread, but not a pair of pants or a six-pack of beer.

Blue laws are still in force in various parts of the country, and for that matter, in other countries.  Sunday shopping laws can be very complex around the world.   A day of rest, or restrictions on the number of work hours was a hard-fought right by labor, in addition to respecting the Christian Sabbath.

Over the years, legal restrictions on businesses were gradually eased, probably more for economic reasons and tourism than for the sanctity of rest or prayer.  Some states restricted movie theaters from operating on Sundays.  Even organized, competitive sports were banned in certain areas.  Imagine Sundays without the NFL, or Major League Baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, hockey or basketball.  Family dinner table fights would be the main contact event around America.

There are a number of large retail companies that still refuse to be open on Sundays.  Philosophically, their owners want to be closed on Sundays, despite their competitors being open.

If you were a traveler, back in the day, you could always find food of some kind. Many people dined out after visiting their place of worship.  Gas stations were hit and miss, but it was doubtful to a mechanic on duty.  Try finding a mechanic on duty at any gas station today; not likely.

That brings up the topic of a favorite television show: The Andy Griffith Show. One of the most heartwarming episodes involved a traveling businessman whose car breaks down outside of Mayberry, on a Sunday. He is desperate to get his car fixed because he has urgent business, but Wally is the best mechanic, and Gomer just pumps gas.  Wally does not work on Sundays.

In “Man in a Hurry”, Malcolm Tucker is used to being able to get what he wants. He is befuddled by Mayberry’s slow pace and his inability to convince others to bend to his needs. The jail is closed on Sunday, so Tucker has to spend the day at Sheriff Andy’s house. After church, they have a big dinner and Tucker is upset that the phone is tied up by two old women doing their weekly visiting.  Mayberry has essentially shut down for the day. Meanwhile, Gomer has convinced his cousin Goober to work on Tucker’s car.  By the end of the episode, Tucker agrees to spend the night, even though Goober got the car fixed, because Tucker has now relaxed and been seduced by the charm and pace of a small town.

Around the country, many communities, particularly in the Bible Belt, have eased restrictions, but slowly, and cautiously over decades of consideration.  Intertwined in these laws were the social and moral fabric of communities.  Sundays, for many businesses, was typically a slow sales day, so being closed was justifiable.  That may not be the same now, as Sunday sales circulars usually fattened up the newspaper (what’s a newspaper?) and for many, was the first part of the paper read.

The end of the 1960s and early 1970s saw cities opt out from state blue laws, although not without some community pushback.  Even large retailers operated differently across the country with respect to Sunday sales, respecting the region they were based.  Some businesses operated with a Christmas loophole, open after Thanksgiving on Sundays, but closing the first Sunday after Christmas.

The Supreme Court finally ruled on the matter in 1961, in McGowan v. Marylanda case filed by employees of a large department store who were fined for selling merchandise on Sunday, in violation of state law.  The Court stripped much of the religious intent in the ruling, allowing states under their police powers to set laws for health, safety and welfare.  In Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 (1961), the Supreme Court ruled that a Pennsylvania state law that required certain types of retail businesses to close on Sunday did not violate the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

As blue laws faded into history, the regulation of the sale of alcohol on Sunday remained in effect in many areas of the country.   Alcohol laws have always been complex and often defying logic.  In recent times, some states that permitted the sale of alcohol in restaurants and bars, did not allow it in grocery stores.

otis campbell

Otis Campbell, always resourceful, could find a supply somewhere in his dry county.  Supply and demand.

2 thoughts on “Never On Sunday

  1. That was a great episode of “The AG Show.” I’m a pagan for whom Sundays mean eggs, sausage, and Jane Pauley, so I’ve always considered “blue laws” a quaint part of Americana. (Not as insidious as organized school prayer or Creationism instruction.)


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s