October 29 2014

Selectmen Vote on Proposal to Expand Sunday Alcohol Sales Time

By: Rich Hosford

The time retail alcohol sales in Burlington must end on Sundays will not change, despite a recent push from a new, large, grocery store. 


The Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to keep the end point for alcohol sales at 6 p.m. on Sundays. 

Representatives from Wegmans were on hand to push to have the hours of sales extended later in the night. The new grocery store is the first such establishment to sell alcohol and the representatives said customers like to have the option of purchasing wine, beer and spirits as they shop on Sunday nights. 


Bill Congdon, Wegmans’ New England division manager, said that during the grand opening, when the store was given permission to sell alcohol until 10 p.m., 25 percent of its alcohol sales for the day were after 6 p.m. He added that in its other two Massachusetts stores, Sunday alcohol sales after 6 p.m. make up between 18 and 23 percent of sales for the day. 


“We have two other stores in the state that both successful sell alcohol after 6 p.m.,” he said. [the percentage of sales after 6 p.m.] tells us that our customers are looking for later sales. Customers are telling us they like shopping those hours.” 


Selectman Ralph Patuto, who is on the subcommittee that handles alcohol issue for the board with Chairman Bob Hogan, said the two of them decided to recommend against extending the sale hours. Hogan was not in attendance Monday night but did say in a special meeting the week before he was against changing the law to allow later sales. 


Patuto said his first reason was safety. The rationale, he said, is that if Wegmans sells alcohol later on Sundays the other, smaller, alcohol stores in town would feel the need to do the same in order to compete. 


“Sunday night is a quiet time in Burlington,” he said. “I look at it from the point of view of the other stores in town and from a security standpoint. A clerk or two working late on a Sunday – that could be an occupational hazard. Something could happen.” 


Patuto said the second issue he saw was the strain it would put on other liquor stores and their employees if they feel compelled to stay open later on Sundays. 


“Most weekend employees of liquor stores are working second jobs or are college students,” he said. “Asking them to work on a Sunday night takes away from families or studies. Either that or the stores will have to find other employees to come in on Sunday nights.” 


Selectman Michael Runyan said he agreed. 


“With all due respect to Wegmans, the majority of other liquor stores don’t want this change,” he said. “Secondly I don’t see any benefit whatsoever of allowing later sales.” 


An attorney for Wegmans said customers of the grocery store would be purchasing alcohol as part of their grocery shopping. He said in his estimation they would not otherwise being buying alcohol and therefor Wegmans would not be competing with the local liquor stores. 


“I’m not sure if any competitors would feel compelled to stay open later,” he said. “They might, but I don’t think they are losing customers they otherwise would be getting.” 


Vice Chair Daniel Grattan, who was acting as chair in Hogan’s absence, said this was not a clear-cut decision for him. 


“To me it’s not quite so black and white,” he said. “The argument against is that if one store is open the other would feel compelled. I’m really not in favor of protectionism. If consumers are telling us they want to be able to shop after hours, I think we should make that available to them.” 


Grattan, however, did say he agreed with the safety concern. 


“If other stores are compelled to open, they would face issues they haven’t faced before.” 


The board ultimately voted 4-0 to not change the law regarding sales times on Sundays. 


Town Administrator John Petrin, answering a question from the board, did say the selectmen could take this issue up again at any time if things change. 

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