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County closer to repealing blue laws

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By Chris Sardelli

William Ferguson pleaded passionately with County Council on Monday night to keep the county’s blue laws intact.

Ferguson, a Lancaster resident, spoke of his father who operated his own business for years, and despite never opening on Sundays, still had enough money to feed his eight children. He said this was proof that business owners and the county can function without repealing the blue laws.

“If a man does not have enough business from six days a week, he need not have a seventh,” Ferguson said.  

He said repealing the laws would be detrimental to the county and instead asked council to strengthen the blue laws, prohibiting all work on Sundays.

“The government unfortunately leads in the moral breakdown of the fabric of our country,” he said. “I pray for you on a daily basis.”

Mitch Ingram, pastor of Freedom Freewill Baptist Church, said businesses should be kept closed during church hours.

“I agree with the Bible that the seventh day is to be holy and kept that way,” Ingram said. “Our culture has changed. It seemed like it used to be Sunday was Sunday. Anything that changes it is wrong.”

Ferguson and Ingram were among 10 residents who spoke on an ordinance council is considering that would repeal blue laws in the county.

Eight of the 10 people who spoke were opposed to repealing the laws.

Russell Dwyer, a business owner from Kershaw, was one of two people to speak in favor of repealing the laws. By allowing businesses to open three hours earlier, he said many businesses could create positions that couldn’t exist before.

“We’ve been told it’s not going to mean much. But tell that to the people who will have new jobs,” Dwyer said. “It will add up, if we create ten, 15, 20 jobs.”

Dean Faile, president and chief executive officer of the Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce, said the suspension would help level the playing field for Lancaster County businesses with those in neighboring counties without the blue laws.

He wondered why consumers could buy cigarettes on Sunday, but not a coat, shoes or an umbrella until after 1:30 p.m.

He said some local retailers are interested in opening earlier than they’re now allowed to on Sundays.

“We’ve heard our retailers would do what would be profitable for them,” Faile said.

The ordinance would suspend the blue laws through June 30, 2013. If enacted, it would allow county business owners to decide whether to open their doors on Sundays. It would not lift the ban on alcohol sales on Sundays.

The ordinance would deal only with the laws that keep certain businesses, such as department and grocery stores, closed until 1:30 p.m. on Sundays and restrict the sale of certain items until after 1:30 p.m. For example, customers can buy medicine from a drug store on Sunday mornings, though they cannot buy clothing from a retailer.

Council passed second reading of the proposed ordinance by a  6-1 vote, with Councilman Jack Estridge dissenting.

Estridge believes Sundays should be a day of rest to spend with family, and said the county can survive without the additional revenues that could be collected if businesses are allowed to remain open on Sundays.

“I still feel like a vast majority of people in my district want it (blue laws) left alone,” Estridge said. “I think Lancaster County can pull through.”

Estridge cast the sole vote against the repeal when the measure first came up for a vote earlier this month.

Councilman Larry Honeycutt, who sponsored the ordinance, has said the county is on an uneven playing field with surrounding counties that have no blue laws. He said this ordinance would allow residents to stay and spend their money within the county.

It will take one more reading of the ordinance by council for it to become enacted.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli  at csardelli@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 416-8416