MANCHESTER, Conn. (AP) — As the first anniversary approaches of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s signing legislation allowing Sunday liquor sales, it seems the success of that initiative depends on where you are.
‘‘We’re just doing six days’ worth of business over seven days,’’ says Walter Silkowski, owner of Brown’s Package Store in Manchester.
‘‘It’s been a huge success,’’ says Dominic Alaimo, owner of Freshwater Package Store in Enfield. ‘‘I'm extremely busy on Sundays.’’
The measure, which was signed on May 20, 2012, ended the last of the state’s ‘‘blue laws,’’ giving liquor stores the option to open on Sundays and on other holidays throughout the year — Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, as well as the Mondays after Sunday holidays.
The extra day of business has left some storeowners with a bad taste in their mouths, however.
‘‘I'd like to go home and have dinner with my family,’’ Silkowski says. ‘‘Actually, I liked it better when everything was closed on Sundays.’’
Mike Andreo, owner of Putnam Plaza Superior Liquors in East Hartford, says his store was closed for only three days this past year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. ‘‘That’s a long year,’’ he observes.
The measure doesn’t require package stores to stay open on Sundays; it just gives their owners the option. But many owners say they feel pressure to remain open, whether they’re busy or not.
‘‘You can’t be the only guy who’s closed,’’ Andreo says.
‘‘We have to be open,’’ Silkowki says. ‘‘People will just go somewhere else.’’
Alaimo, who for years had pushed for legislation that would allow Sunday sales, says the measure simply puts liquor stores’ owners on the same schedule as their counterparts in any other retail field.
‘‘Pizza shops are open all weekend, so they pick a different day to be closed,’’ he says, adding that liquor stores’ owners have the same choice now. ‘‘No one else in any other industry has the luxury to demand that everyone closes on one day. It’s about the right to be open.’’
Compounding a potentially slow Sunday sales day for storeowners is the overhead cost to keep their stores open an extra day.
Carroll J. Hughes, executive director and chief lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Store Association, says that package stores ‘‘spent a total of $6.5 million in labor and utilities to keep their stores open for an additional 55 days a year.’’
Hughes says he arrived at that number through a survey of the 1,100 liquor stores in the state.
‘‘We called those who didn’t respond, then averaged (their Sunday expenditures) on the low side,’’ he says.
In general, Hughes echoes Silkowski, saying that liquor stores are doing the same amount of business, just stretched over more days.
‘‘My stores are telling me that they broke even, or are a little behind what they made last year,’’ Hughes says.
Including both the group’s dues-paying members and those who contribute in other ways, such as to fundraisers, Hughes estimates that the Connecticut Package Store Association has between 500 and 600 members. That’s about half of the 1,100 liquor stores in Connecticut.
He adds: ‘‘We spent $6.5 million on a noble experiment. It is what it is.’’
For grocery stores, however, which already were open on Sundays, the measure has been nothing but good for business.
Eric Nilsson, store manager at Geissler’s Supermarket in Somers, says the extra day of selling beer has increased weekly sales significantly.
‘‘We’re up by 8 to 10 percent per week,’’ Nilsson says. ‘‘It’s a convenience thing for people.’’
Joe Panero, the store manager at Highland Park Market in Manchester, says that Sundays are now the second busiest day for beer sales at the store. Saturdays are still the first, he says.
‘‘We only saw a slight drop in beer sales on Saturdays,’’ since the legislation went into effect, Panero says. ‘‘But we more than make up for it on Sundays.’’
Both Nilsson and Panero say they have found that people are taking advantage of the opportunity to buy everything they'll need for a party in one place.
As far as what customers are buying with their beer, Nilsson says, ‘‘In general, it’s people buying beer along with their regular groceries,’’ rather than people stopping in to buy solely beer.
‘‘It’s just more convenient for the customers, Panero says. ‘‘It didn’t make sense to cover up (the beer) on Sundays; it’s already there.’’
The added convenience means that Geissler’s at least has been able to recoup sales it had been losing to Massachusetts liquor stores, Nilsson says.
This was an issue that many storeowners in north-central Connecticut had faced: losing customers to Massachusetts liquor stores that have been open on Sundays since 2004.
‘‘If you drove up to Massachusetts on a Sunday, you used to see lines of cars outside package stores,’’ Alaimo says. ‘‘Now, it’s maybe four cars in the parking lots.’’
Those customers who used to hop over the border to get their liquor seem to be staying in state now that they have the option to buy on Sundays.
Data analysis from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, which lobbied on behalf of distillers and wholesalers in favor of the Sunday sales legislation, shows that Connecticut has substantially outperformed its northern neighbor in volume growth in recent months.
The council used data provided by the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for the months between May and December — the seven months after the legislation passed, and the most recent for which there’s available data.
In that period, spirits, wine, and beer sales in Connecticut have increased by 4.6 percent, 4.7 percent, and 2.5 percent respectively, compared with the same period in 2011.
The same comparison in Massachusetts shows that sales for spirits, wine, and beer rose by 0.1 percent, 2.9 percent, and 0 percent, respectively.
Because Connecticut taxes liquor at a higher rate, these figures indicate that it’s the convenience of Sunday sales, rather than better prices that are driving the growth in this state, according to a report provided by Ben Jenkins, vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council.
‘‘For years, Connecticut residents had to go to neighboring states where merchants selling alcoholic beverages were wide open for business,’’ Kevin B. Sullivan, commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Revenue Services, said in a release. ‘‘Connecticut lost business, lost sales, and lost taxes.’’
According to information reported to the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services though January, the increased sales volume of alcohol resulted in an additional $1.3 million in excise taxes for the state.
However, adding liquor sales on Sundays and some holidays was supposed to bring in an additional $4.3 million yearly in excise and sale taxes, according to legislative budget analysts.
Liquor storeowners like Andreo and Silkowski who aren’t so close to the state line haven’t seen a jump in their own sales.
‘‘Our ring totals are way down,’’ Andreo says, meaning that people are buying less each time they come in, as compared with last year.
‘‘If anything, people actually used to over-buy on Saturday,’’ Silkowski says, ‘‘because they knew they wouldn’t be able to come on Sunday. We’re just not seeing that anymore.’’
Both Andreo and Silkowski say they saw diluted sales over the normally busy Memorial Day weekend last year as well.
‘‘It took three days — Saturday, Sunday, and Monday — over the holiday weekend to (sell) what we did on just Saturday the year before,’’ Andreo recalls.
For Alaimo in Enfield, however, that holiday weekend was significantly more fruitful.
‘‘I doubled what I did’’ before the Sunday sales legislation went into effect, he says.
For their part, neither Andreo nor Silkowski plans to cut back hours in the future.
‘‘The toothpaste is out of the tube,’’ Andreo says.