Blue Laws – Never on Sunday

I grew up in what some would consider the northernmost fringe of the Bible Belt – an area of our country steeped in conservative Christian values. Of course, I had no idea about such things. It was just home and I loved everything about it.

Virginia, like many other states, observed Blue Laws which affected what you could and could not do or buy on Sunday. Considered a day of rest and worship, no work should be done on that day.

The problem with the law was that the interpretation and the adherence was as varied as the citizens it applied to. Enforcement  varied from county to county and often times adherence demands were stricter when a new political force was trying to make the law central to their platform. Attempts to repeal the 1610 law in Virginia continued until finally successful in 1988.

What I remember was the law was intended to keep people at home on Sunday to go to church and spend time with their families. No work was allowed. Stores were generally closed with the exception of places that sold essential goods – and essential seemed to always be up for interpretation. Women could not buy nylons for example. You could buy a loaf of bread but you could not buy food that required work to prepare.

The sale of alcohol was a big no, no with blue laws. In fact many states still have such restrictive laws. In some states or counties, you cannot buy alcohol until after noon and some, not at all.


Another interesting practice was the closing of businesses at noon on Wednesdays. I have read many different reasons for this. In our area, we had church service on Sunday morning and Sunday evening and usually had Bible study on Wednesday evening. This could have played into the need to get home early and have time to prepare dinner and then go to church.

I have also read that Wednesday afternoon is when many of the stock yard auctions were held. Being in a rural and farming region, this was an important aspect of life there. Add that to the increased amount of business being held on Saturdays, a mid-week break would not have been unusual.

Regardless, the banks and retail businesses all closed for the day at noon on Wednesday.

Blue laws existed in many northern states as well, but were perhaps not as prevalent. I doubt there are many places in most states that are not open for business on Sunday these days with the exception of those owned by certain religious interests.

24 thoughts on “Blue Laws – Never on Sunday”

  1. A interesting trip down memory lane. Born and raised in Indiana and remember all of the Blue Laws you list, including stores closed Wednesday afternoon. (You still have to wait until after 12 noon Sunday to buy that bottle of whiskey.) Thanks for sharing this post.

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  2. Bad memories, Maggie. Some of them were so repressive and most were stupid. The only groceries you could buy on Sunday was milk, bread, and eggs. Car lots were in business but only to look, not buy.
    Some still live on. Here in MN all liquor stores are still closed on Sunday. It wasn’t too many years ago that the only thing you could drink in a bar on Sunday was 3.2 beer.

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    1. In Virginia, liquor sales were confined to stte run ABC stores. 3.2 beer could be purchased (I don’t remember if any stronger beer was available to buy) in the stores, but never on Sunday. The laws were so rigid in the early days with people going to jail for some pretty ridiculous things.


      1. Sounds like the laws in No Car when I was stationed there. I think there was only 2 ABC stores in the state. No competition for the moonshiners which were abundant.

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  3. We also had Wednesday closing in London. It was called ‘Half Day Closing’, and lasted until I was in my 20s, all over Britain. The only shops open on Sundays until I was 25 were newspaper shops, and then only until midday. Pubs and bars had limited hours, from midday until 2pm, then 7pm until 10:30 pm. That just meant everyone drank the same amount of booze in less time! 🙂
    Now here in England, almost everything is open on a Sunday, from 10:00 am until 4 pm. Those hours are restricted by law.
    Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Opening hours seem to be whatever a business chooses here. Holiday hours are often extended, sometimes until midnight in some places. That is an effort to get those holiday shopping dollars I suppose.


  4. Connecticut only allowed the sale of alcohol on Sundays and holidays in 2012. We can buy beer in supermarkets, but not wine or liquor. Those items remain available only in Package Stores.

    When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, my dad managed a bowling alley. It was always open on Sunday afternoons and evenings, even in the days when retail stores were closed. LIke you say, these laws were often subject to local interpretation.

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    1. We can buy beer and wine in grocery stores here, but not liquor. It must be purchased in a state run ABC store.

      The Blue Laws were quite pervasive and yes, not managed consistently.

      (I’d love to read about the bowling alley stories your dad must have had.)

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