Push to allow Sunday sales at S.C. liquor stores will have to wait another year

Published: Apr. 28, 2023 at 6:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolinians who want to be able to shop at the liquor store on Sundays will have to wait at least another year.

A push to allow Sunday liquor sales has run out of time at the State House for the rest of 2023, with the legislative session winding down.

In the meantime, South Carolina remains one of four states where it is illegal for retailers to sell liquor on Sundays, along with North Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

“Folks, it’s time,” Rep. Mark Smith, R – Berkeley, told a panel of his colleagues on the House Judiciary General Laws Subcommittee on Thursday.

Smith filed a bill that could expand alcohol sales in South Carolina’s biggest and most tourism-heavy areas.

Under his proposal, the 10 counties that bring in at least $1 million annually in hospitality taxes — Beaufort, Richland, Charleston, Greenville, Spartanburg, Florence, Horry, Georgetown, Lexington, and York — could put the question to voters if retailers should be able to sell liquor on Sundays.

A Charleston distillery said it would benefit from Sunday sales.

“I sit at the cash register every Saturday, and all these tourists — about 70% of our business on the weekends is tourists — and they say, ‘Can we come tomorrow and get it so we can take it with us on the airplane?’ And we tell them no,” Jim Irvin of Firefly Distillery said.

Larger distributors and retailers also support the expansion.

But opposition from mom-and-pop liquor stores killed the measure for this year, as their owners testified if voters approved it, they would be forced to open on Sundays to stay competitive with corporately-owned liquor stores.

“If you give them that option, one person will open, and that will force the others. … I can count on one hand the number of times a tourist has come in and said, ‘Man, I wish you guys were open on Sundays,’” David Osborn, the owner of three liquor stores in the Charleston area, said.

They worry the costs they would have to pay for staff and a Sunday liquor license would outweigh new profits they might bring in.

“It’s adding additional costs to small mom-and-pops that aren’t hurting. I mean, nobody comes in and says they’re not going to visit Charleston County because we don’t sell liquor on Sunday,” Kara Crowell of Sweetgrass Spirits & Wine in Mount Pleasant, said.

The subcommittee voted to adjourn the debate on Smith’s bill and two others related to alcohol sales: One that would allow any county to hold a referendum on Sunday liquor sales, and another that would allow liquor stores to stay open after 7 p.m. when they are currently required to close.

That means those bills will not go any further this year, with South Carolina’s legislative session ending in two weeks.

But lawmakers can take them up when a new session begins next January.

The panel did advance two other bills to expand alcohol sales to the full House Judiciary Committee.

One would increase how much beer you can take home from your favorite craft brewery — upping it from the equivalent of one case of 12-oz. cans per day to three cases per day — and make it easier for those breweries to transfer beer from one location to another.

The other bill would allow people 21 and older to order alcohol at bars and restaurants past TSA security at six South Carolina airports — Charleston International Airport, Columbia Metropolitan Airport, Florence Regional Airport, Greenville-Spartanburg Airport, Hilton Head Island Airport, and Myrtle Beach International Airport — and then drink them anywhere in the terminal.

Consumption is currently limited to the bar or restaurant where the drink was purchased, and if this becomes law, those airports could still restrict it to those areas.

Both the craft beer bill and the airport bill have already passed the state Senate.

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