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Back When … What’s a Blue Law?


Liquor stores in Texas still cannot sell liquor on Sundays.

Liquor stores in Texas still cannot sell liquor on Sundays.

Why are the malls closed?” “Why is this section of the grocery store roped off? I need nails and screws!” These were some of the conversations heard throughout the South, including Texas, until as late as 1985. The answer to those questions was the “Blue Law.”

Blue Laws first appeared in Virginia in 1617, and accommodate a strong Christian Sabbath. The movement spread throughout the South to protect Christian business owners who observed the Sabbath from their competitors. It did not protect Jews or Muslims, however; it created a double standard favoring Christians.

The term “Blue” is believed to have been a reference to the rigid moral codes, and those who observed them who were referred to as “bluenoses.” Prohibited activities included work, travel, recreation, cooking, shaving, cutting hair, wearing lace or precious metals, sweeping, making beds, kissing, and many other things. Many of the prohibited activities were based on a Puritan ethic.

In Texas, the Blue Law existed until 1985. It pertained mostly to the selling of certain items and non-food establishments. The sale of alcohol still is restricted by some form of blue law today as liquor stores cannot be open on Sundays. Some precincts in Conroe were “dry” until very recently. In a dry county alcohol is only available to “club” members. For a buck you could become a member. Statistically, it was found that the rate of drunk driving increased in dry counties because people had to drive home from the clubs.

The rules on alcohol sales were — and are — the most confusing. In some states you have to buy food if you want to buy a drink. Some areas sell only beer or only wine. Others sell 4 percent beer and in other counties only 14 percent alcohol or less is legal.

Automobile dealerships still are affected by Blue Laws, as they must close on either Saturday or Sunday each weekend. A Texas lawmaker recently filed a bill to allow the sales of cars on both days of the weekend.

In 1961 there were Blue Laws enacted that prohibited the sale of 42 items on consecutive Saturdays and Sundays. This effort was aimed at discount houses and the sale of furniture, housewares, clothing, hardware and appliances. It was repealed in 1985 when most of the other Blue Laws were repealed. In many areas, however, the laws weren’t enforced or stores opened in defiance of them.

The many prohibitions in the Blue Laws did make it easier to have family time. Some stores (such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A) still observe Sunday by closing.

If you want to see what it was like back then, try to avoid everything but family time and church for one Sunday. That means no eating out, no shopping and no yard work!

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