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Suit seeks to overturn law on Sunday sale of liquor

Tourists stream into La Bruschetta, a gourmet takeout store in West Stockbridge, on their way to Tanglewood picnics and leaf-peeping adventures.

But they are out of luck on Sundays if they want to buy a bottle of wine with their braised duck legs: Massachusetts stores near New Hampshire and Vermont are exempt from the Commonwealth's Sunday sales prohibition, but those near New York are not.

Owner Danny May says the quirk in the law costs La Bruschetta about $1,000 in lost sales on every summer Sunday, and last week he sued the state's Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission to change it. In their suit, filed in Berkshire County Superior Court, May and another Berkshires shop owner argue that the state rule allowing stores within 10 miles of New Hampshire and Vermont to sell liquor on Sundays should apply to those near New York, too -- or it should be scrapped.

"In the summer months, when the [Boston Symphony Orchestra] is out in Tanglewood, many of the visitors are New Yorkers who can now buy liquor on Sundays at home," said May, referring to the fact that last May New York waived the last of its Sunday liquor sales restrictions "They come up here and are shocked to find we don't have Sunday sales."

The ABCC declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Massachusetts allows Sunday sales within 10 miles of the New Hampshire and Vermont borders because it wants Bay State shoppers to patronize in-state businesses rather than traveling to those neighboring states, which allow Sunday sales.

May argues that the current law is unconstitutional because it discriminates against stores near New York. He said he has been on a "nonstop crusade" to change the law since New York relaxed its own liquor rules, and launched the legal challenge because he is frustrated with the Legislature's inaction.

But he also views his lawsuit as a way to "chip away" at the Commonwealth's broader Sunday prohibition, which survived a challenge two weeks ago in the Massachusetts House. Legislators from areas near New Hampshire and Vermont, seeking to protect the special Sunday privileges of store owners in their districts, helped defeat a bill that would have allowed cities and towns across the Commonweath to grant permission for Sunday sales.

Those in favor of scrapping the Sunday liquor law argue it isn't fair to restrict liquor stores when Massachusetts has already cleared the way for other retailers to operate on Sundays. But many mom-and-pop liquor store owners oppose the change because it would create pressure for them to work on their only day off, and some religious leaders are loath to give up one of the last laws that distinguishes Sunday from other days.

Scott S. Greenberger can be reached at

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