Peter has been the manager of Alcoholic Beverage Control store No. 254 on Three Chopt Road for 12 years. Six days a week, he has sold some of the finest liquors to local residents as well as University of Richmond students. He's sold tequila on Tuesdays, whiskey on Wednesdays and plenty of Southern Comfort on Saturdays. But not once has he sold a drop of liquor on a Sunday.
On July 1, that could all change.
Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine signed a bill into law on March 2 that would allow state-run liquor stores in some of the state's largest cities to open on Sundays, including stores in the city of Richmond. The bill, originally proposed by Del. Tom Gear (R-Hampton), was passed 22-17 by the Virginia Senate voted 22-17 on Feb. 19. It will go into effect on July 1.
Previous Virginia law regulated that only cities with populations of more than 500,000 could open on Sundays. About 90 designated ABC stores in Northern Virginia, Virginia Beach and Norfolk have been open on Sunday afternoons since 2004, according to the ABC Department's Web site. The proposed law lowers the city population criteria to 100,000, which would enable stores in Richmond as well as the cities of Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News and Chesapeake to join the Sunday club. The law, however, would not affect the counties surrounding the cities.
Peter, who declined to give his last name, would not comment when asked if he had a preference of whether he wants his store to open on Sundays, but acknowledged everyone must be willing to make adjustments.
"Everybody has to deal with change," he said.
But Peter's store finds itself in a unique situation. Located in the middle of the Village Shopping Center just minutes from the Richmond campus, the store technically lies in both the city of Richmond and Henrico County. The front of the store is in the jurisdiction of the city, while the store's storage area is part of Henrico. Peter said he thought the store would be included in the bill since the front of the store includes the liquor products and the registers where transactions officially happened, but he said the store would have to wait to see what legislators decide.
"We'll have to leave that decision to the powers that be," Peter said. An analysis by the Department of Planning and Budget estimated that additional Sunday openings would increase state revenues by $500,000 to $700,000 annually.
David Wojnar, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council, said in addition to the economic boost it will give the Commonwealth, the law will make the lives of shoppers easier, and consumers would be granted more flexibility and convenience by having stores open seven days a week. He also noted that Virginia is one of 12 states since 2002 that has adjusted its liquor laws to allow for Sunday sales, which is currently legal in 34 states.
Emmanuel Puma, legislative director of Gear, who first proposed the bill, said the delegate did not dream up the bill, but instead was asked by the ABC commission to carry the legislation through the house. He said ABC determined that the financial success of Sunday sales during the past few years made it logical to expand the program. In 2006, the Commonwealth gained an estimated $8.7 million in revenue from Sunday liquor sales, which translated into an additional $860,000 in new tax revenue, according to a recent economic analysis cited by Wojnar.
Puma said opposition to the bill came mostly from those opposed to the distribution and consumption of alcohol in any form. Sen. John Watkins (R-Powhatan) was one's of the bills most vocal critics.
"We should not be in this business and we should not make it more, quote-unquote, profitable," he said. "We have no business as a state being in the business of promoting, and that's what we're doing -- promoting distilled spirits."
Puma said the bill isn't designed to promote liquor sales, but instead is intended to allow the state to collect the revenue the government believes belongs to Virginia and its residents. Puma said some residents have been known to travel to the District of Columbia or Maryland to purchase liquor on Sundays.
"It would be a different story if the Commonwealth was going out and trying to develop more alcohol sales and encourage more people to buy alcohol," he said. "But that is not the case. [The bill] is really just trying to recoup the tax revenue instead of losing business to other states"