Should the town allow Sunday liquor sales?

The Board of Selectmen want a public hearing on allowing liquor sales on Sundays. Though state law allows Sunday sales, a town ordinance in Wilton bans the practice. At its meeting Monday, July 15, the board tentatively scheduled a public hearing for September.

Mitch Ancona, owner of Ancona’s Wine and Liquor at 5 River Road, attended the meeting and offered a first-hand account of the negative effects of Wilton’s dry-Sunday policy on local businesses.

He filed an unofficial petition that showed 240 Wilton residents supported Sunday liquor sales. Mr. Ancona also noted that the owners of Wilton Wine Shoppe were in favor of Sunday sales as well.

He told the board that Sunday sales in a store he operates in Ridgefield account for 10% of that store’s total sales.

“What I’m seeing now, is that I need seven days to get back to my old six days’ worth of business,” Mr. Ancona said. “You have to understand, that is 10% needed to get me back to a full 100%” before Sunday sales were allowed by the state.

Though he is not a fan of putting extra pressure on his staff to cover Sundays, he understands that changing laws have required him to do so. Because liquor stores in neighboring towns are open on Sunday, he feels he is losing a good chunk of business because he cannot open in Wilton.

“If I could try to recoup some of that on Sunday, it would be advantageous. It doesn’t really help to have a predatory competitor move in down the road.”

Comparing his Wilton store to his Ridgefield store that is open on Sunday, Mr. Ancona said that Sunday sales are now a necessary component to a successfully run liquor store in the state.

“My first Sunday I was open in Ridgefield, I had 81 customers. The second Sunday was the day before Memorial day,” he said. “Keep in mind we have always been closed that day, and people knew they had to shop early. We had 221 customers that Sunday. I thought it would take a little while for people to get used to liquor stores being open on Sunday, but I think on the consumer end their time is so important, and things happen with such an ‘I want it now’ mentality, that it only took two weeks for sales to go up that high.”

He also said that — inevitably — if he or his staff are stocking shelves in Wilton on a Sunday, he has customers attempt to open the door to purchase liquor.

“They don’t really seem to understand the Wilton ordinances,” he said. “They’re very used to being able to buy liquor on Sunday.”

Selectman Ted Hoffstatter noted that he was initially opposed to Wilton allowing Sunday liquor sales because local package stores were in opposition to the idea.

“To me it’s always been about what does our town want, and what do our businesses want. Now that the law has changed at the state level where it’s affecting you, I’m here for you guys. If you guys want to be open, great. If you think it is going to help you, I can’t see any reason you can’t be open on Sunday.”

First Selectman Bill Brennan said that he was in favor of a public hearing.

“It would be well publicized, and people could come out and give their opinion,” he said. “After that hearing, we have 35 days to act on the matter. This doesn’t have to go the town for a vote. We would publicize it, then make a decision whether to act or not after seeing what the people come out and have to say.”

Selectman Jim Saxe, however, worried that — considering the past lack of interest in public hearings convened by the Board of Selectmen — this issue should go to a townwide vote.

“Everyone has to go and vote in May,” he said, “and I strongly suggest it be up to the town, unless we hear a very strong voice in favor of Sunday sales. We don’t have to bring it to the town, but we can.”

Liquor ordinance changes are always a touchy subject, Mr. Brennan said, but changing the Sunday sales ordinance doesn’t appear that it would be a very controversial change.

“I think we need to go through the public hearing, and see what kind of reaction we get, and then make a decision” whether to bring it to a vote, or to decide on the issue as a board.

Selectman Hoffstatter said that he agrees with the idea of a public hearing, but feels Sunday sales would not be moving against townwide sentiment.

“Unless there is a public outcry, and the business owners are on board, then I have no problem amending the ordinance. But if there seems to be sticky territory, it’s better to take the town’s temperature.”