Never on Sunday? Blue law: Repeal of antiquated rule would allow new auto sales operation in Howard.

February 15, 1996

IN AUTO LOT parlance, the proposal to bring a huge "state of the art" used car dealership to Howard County should be **TC "cream puff," an easy sell. While the state legislature is weighing the removal of a snack tax to encourage the creation of jobs, including 200 at a Frito-Lay plant, here are 300 jobs for the taking -- with no state incentives requested, save for the lifting in Howard County of an antiquated statute that prohibits auto sales on Sundays. And while lawmakers are rightly targeting regulations that inhibit business for little or no public benefit, here's a restrictive "blue law" more suited to the Age of the Puritans than the 1990s.

Circuit City, the electronics chain, wants to bring some of the principles that have helped it grow to the much-maligned field of used cars by opening a used car superstore. It would be similar to four "CarMax" lots it now runs from Atlanta to Richmond, Va. Prospective buyers use a computer kiosk to "shop" autos in their style and price range, and get a set price for cars that interest them. CarMax's proposal to enter the Baltimore-Washington market on land near vacant Freestate Raceway has the support of the state secretaries of economic development and transportation, the Howard County executive and nearby community groups.

Some legislators in neighboring Anne Arundel County have tried to scuttle the Howard bill at the behest of Glen Burnie car dealers who fear the competition or are reluctant to change their way of doing business. "This has been a hotter issue than the stadium," exclaims northern Anne Arundel Sen. Philip C. Jimeno.

The protectionist heat he's feeling notwithstanding, erasing this blue law, especially in Howard, makes sense. Consumers have already shown a desire for a new style of car-buying, evidenced by the popularity of GM's Saturn and its "no hassle" pricing. Car dealers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, which have had Sunday car sales for 10 years, say their initial fears about this transition never came to pass. The legislature a decade ago agreed that blue laws were anachronistic and repealed them for most retailers. With the car business so volatile, we're surprised dealerships wouldn't want the option of selling on Sundays. The feeble argument against Senate Bill 394 could best be classified as a "clunker."

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