Ending the auto 'blue laws' AutoNation proposal: Gary's reversal should prod lawmakers to lift Sunday car-sale ban.

February 11, 1997

JOHN G. GARY would need to go to Ritchie Highway's "auto mile" for a new transmission had he shifted gears in his car as abruptly as he reversed his political stance toward the lifting of the Sunday ban on auto sales in Anne Arundel County.

The county executive originally favored surveying local auto dealers to see if they want to end the "blue law" that bars them from doing business on Sunday.

It was a cowardly stance, an attempt to take a position without taking a position, since the outcome of such a poll was pre-ordained: Anne Arundel's dealers strenuously fought the lifting of the blue law in neighboring Howard County last year, fearing the impact; they certainly were not going to invite the competition into their own backyard.

After speaking with representatives of AutoNation USA, the used-auto "superstore" begun by Miami sports and video magnate H. Wayne Huizenga, Mr. Gary had a rapid, sensible change of heart. He did not want AutoNation to open next door in Prince George's County, which along with Montgomery County and Howard are the only jurisdictions in Maryland that allow car sales on Sunday.

We hope other legislators see the bigger picture as Mr. Gary has. The blue-law anachronism for autos should not have endured this long. A decade ago, every other retailer in Maryland gave up this vestige of colonial New England Puritanism. They have had to compete in a '90s arena with new marketing strategies and new consumer patterns. Blue laws for cars have been crumbling in other states, too.

Can lawmakers who fret about Maryland's "business climate" afford to reject AutoNation's proposal for 300 to 500 good-paying jobs? Is it fair to disallow a seven-day operation while three large jurisdictions in the corridor already accommodate Sunday sales?

These new, ominously named franchises are coming, and lawmakers will be able to keep their finger in the dike only so long. Marylanders should be able to shop for a car on Sunday if they choose. Dealers should not expect government to provide them cover from legitimate competitors or to help manage their personnel issues regarding employees working Sundays. That's a business the state of Maryland all but abandoned with great deliberation long ago.

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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