Published Thu, Nov 1, 2012 8:05 am Dateline
As Vinton County voters go to the polls this election season, some will decide ballot issues involving liquor sales which date back to so-called "blue laws" hundreds of years old.
Those laws have left fingerprints on liquor licensing procedures that make it quite a process for business owners to get the special licenses they need. That is certainly the case for one small convenience store in Vinton County.
The History of Blue Laws in Ohio
“Blue laws” historically have restricted certain acts because of widely held Christian beliefs of what should and should not be done on Sunday. These laws were initiated by early Puritan settlers.
The name “blue laws” was said to come from the idea that the first laws in Connecticut were written out on blue paper, but many historians believe that it comes from an old slang term for “rigidly moral”.
In this region, blue laws were instituted 15 years before Ohio received statehood, according to the Ohio History Center. The first laws were enacted to force people to “set apart the first day of the week as a day of rest from common labor and pursuits,"and outlawed "all servile labors, works of charity”.
Some of the more interesting blue laws outlawed getting haircuts on Sunday or having sporting and other events scheduled on Sunday. These laws weren’t challenged much, but instead often were simply ignored.
Ohio first started overturning blue laws with the law that banned sporting events and hunting on Sunday in 1959.
Ohio overturned the law that banned liquor sales on Sunday in 1974, but the remnants of liquor sales blue laws stick around to this day in licensing requirements.
There are 58 different types of liquor license listed by the Department of Ohio Liquor Control.
Selling alcohol on Sundays requires a special type of license, which is exactly the kind of license the Vinton County establishment Rippling Waters is trying to get.
Getting Liquor Sales on Sunday
Rippling Waters was able to sell alcohol at the convenience store/restaurant up until February of this year, when its license expired.
Now, in order to expand their business, the owners are hoping to sell alcohol on Sundays. They say Sunday sales would be a convenience for the people of Knox Township, who have to travel long distances to reach a grocery store.
“For some people around here, especially up on the ridge, the closest grocery store is 11 or 12 miles away,” said Barbara Brown, one of three owners of Rippling Waters. “So, we really hold people over between their shopping trips, in terms of their milk and butter and that.”
But getting that option of Sunday sales is a lengthy and complicated process.
“Ohio law requires that before a permit can be issued or various alcohol sales privileges authorized, the business location must be voted ‘wet’ through local option election for the sale privileges desired," says Matt Mullins, public information officer from the Ohio Department of Commerce.
“Local option elections can be either a vote affecting an entire voting precinct or a site specific vote affecting only the location or business specified in the ballot question,” Mullins continued.
The owners had to go through several steps before their issue reached the ballot, including getting enough signatures from supporters.
“We went door to door and asked people for their signatures. Some were more hesitant, but some people signed it right away,” said Brown.
After getting the required number of support signatures, they now have to leave the business decision to sell alcohol on Sundays up to the ballot language and Knox Township voters.
“Ballot language is provided by Ohio law in ORC Chapter 4301, and the process is under the authority of the local county Board of Elections. Once certified election results are submitted to the Ohio Division of Liquor Control, a permit can be issued or altered accordingly,” said Mullins.
So, Barbara Brown and her co-owners wait to see if voters decide they can sell alcohol on Sundays, a local business decision, that's now a community decision because of laws more than 200 years old.