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Bustling stores ask: What blue laws?

Super 88 says warning missed

Shoppers flocked to the Super 88 Market on Allstate Road in Boston yesterday. The store was open despite state blue laws.
Shoppers flocked to the Super 88 Market on Allstate Road in Boston yesterday. The store was open despite state blue laws. (Globe Staff Photo / Justine Hunt)

Blue laws? Huh?

That was the reaction at the Super 88 Market chain, whose six Boston-area supermarkets were open yesterday despite 17th-century legislation that prohibits large retail stores from operating on Thanksgiving.

Managers and employees contacted at five of the Super 88 stores said they knew nothing about the warnings issued by Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly last week telling retailers to stay closed on turkey day or face criminal charges. At the Quincy location on Hancock Street, they found out at 11:30 a.m. yesterday, when police, acting on a tip that the store was abuzz with customers, ordered it to close.

''We sent one officer up there. We told them they had to shut down. And they did," said Quincy police Sergeant Agnus McEachern.

But at the Super 88 at the South Bay Center in Dorchester, customers battled for parking. A sign taped to the door read: ''Happy Thanksgiving" and posted holiday hours of 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Shoppers' carriages were filled with disposable turkey pans, fresh fish, vegetables, sodas, and milk.

A store manager, who declined to give his name, said he was unaware of the centuries-old restrictions. He said the chain, which specializes in Asian foods, closes one day a year, in observation of the Chinese New Year, which falls in January or February. The next Chinese New Year is Jan. 29, 2006.

David Guarino, Reilly's spokesman, declined to comment about Super 88 yesterday, but said the attorney general's office would investigate all reports of illegally opened stores.

''Every employer should know the law," he said. ''If these stores want to open, there's a way to do it: Change the law."

Police did not close the four Super 88 stores in Boston, a police spokesman said. Likewise, the Malden store was allowed to operate, according to Malden police.

Reilly issued his warnings after Whole Foods, the health-oriented supermarket chain, had announced plans to keep its 14 Massachusetts stores open for Thanksgiving to provide customers a chance to buy the fresh organic turkeys. But when officials from its competitor, Shaw's Supermarket, learned of the plans, they wrote a letter to Reilly citing the state's Colonial-era blue laws and asking him to block the Thanksgiving openings.

In addition to Whole Foods, Reilly warned Wal-Mart, Family Dollar, and Big Lots not to open. The businesses assured Reilly they would not open; no one answered phones at outlets of these chains in Greater Boston yesterday.

Super 88 officials reached yesterday said the warnings were news to them.

''We don't celebrate" Thanksgiving, said Rudy Chen, a former manager of the Super 88 in Chinatown who is now working as a senior buyer for the chain's corporate offices. Chen said in a telephone interview that the store he managed was always open on Thanksgiving, that he was not aware of the law, and that he had never received complaints.

''All the businesses in Chinatown are open. The whole community," he said. ''On holidays, when we have nothing else to do, we go into Chinatown. . . . They are the only businesses that are open."

The state's blue laws were first enacted in the 1600s, intended to prevent colonists from straying from church or hearth to drink or transact business. In their current form, the laws ban retailers with more than seven employees from opening on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pharmacies may stay open.

Reilly told the Globe this week that tradition, and giving workers a day off, outweighs shopper convenience. ''Thanksgiving is a time when people should be with their families, not working," he said.

But not all traditions are the same, said some customers who flocked to the Super 88 in Dorchester yesterday. While some scoured the shelves for holiday fixings, others were huddled by the lobster tub, apparently opting for a Thanksgiving without the traditional stuffed turkey.

Some said they didn't know it was illegal for the store to be open. ''I was just driving around, and I saw it," said Edgar Mynor of Chelsea, who was shopping with his teenage son. ''I did my shopping for the week so tomorrow we won't have to do it, and we can spend an extra day with family."

Megan Tench can be reached at mtench@globe.com.

 JEFF JACOBY: Got the Puritan blues (By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist, 11/23/05)
 Holiday warning issued to retailers (By Chase Davis, Globe Correspondent, 11/23/05)
 AG: No gathering together at Whole Foods on turkey day (By Michael Levenson, Globe Correspondent, 11/19/05)
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