Debate starts on Sunday car sales

Car dealer opposes legislator's proposal to allow 7-day sales

February 27, 2000|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

As general manager of six Baltimore County automobile dealerships, Jimmy Berg works 50 or 60 hours a week and has no interest in adding more.

That's why he opposes a bill moving through the General Assembly that would lift the ban on Sunday car sales in Baltimore County.

He and other dealers say an extra day's work adds to their expenses and eliminates something workers and customers have come to appreciate -- a day off.

"I don't think you'll find too many dealerships that would be too excited about it," said Berg of Len Stoler Automotive in Owings Mills. "The employees would hate it. We're already open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. To add another day would be very tough on people's private lives."

The bill was proposed by state Sen. Michael J. Collins, who says he introduced it on behalf of CarMax, a large new and used car dealership in White Marsh. CarMax officials declined to comment.

"I went to a furniture store this Sunday because it was convenient to me," said Collins, a Democrat who represents parts of Harford and Baltimore counties. "What is the difference between furniture stores, grocery stores and car dealerships? Should we have a law that says furniture stores have to close on Sunday?

"I think blue laws, quite frankly, are an anachronism of the 20th century," he added. "People should have the opportunity to conduct business on Sunday if they want to. It's not a revolutionary concept."

Most of the state's blue laws were lifted during the 1980s. Car dealers represent a major exception. In Maryland, only Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties allow car sales on Sunday.

Dealers in Prince George's and Montgomery wanted to open on Sundays to compete with dealers in Northern Virginia. Howard repealed its ban on such sales in 1997 to clear the way for a CarMax dealership in North Laurel. Similar efforts in Anne Arundel County have failed the past few years.

Competitive advantage

Advocates of the bill argue that it would help Baltimore County dealerships compete with those in areas where Sunday sales are permitted.

"From a general business perspective, it would make a lot of sense," said Robert L. McKinney, president of the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. "It's not a major issue for the chamber, but it's one we support because just about everything in the world is open on Sundays now.

"The bill does not force dealerships to open," McKinney said.

But those who remain closed risk losing business, Berg and other managers said. They list other considerations, including the cost of bringing in employees for an extra day and obtaining financing for customers on Sunday.

Berg said he would have to have five employees working at each of the six Len Stoler locations. That means either hiring new workers or requiring employees to work more hours. Either way, the cost adds up to thousands of dollars, he said.

"If we're open, then all the financial institutions making the loans possible need to be open, too," said Rick Fulco, sales manager at Norris Ford in Dundalk, which employs 250 people. "We're handicapped without them, and I've never heard any talk of having them open on Sunday."

Customer not happy

Susan Purtell of Owings Mills, who has spent the last few weekends visiting dealerships in search of a sport utility vehicle, is no fan of the Collins bill. She says it would restrict her ability to browse.

"I like the fact that they are not open," said Purtell, who visited Len Stoler in Owings Mills one day last week to talk with the sales staff. "It gives you the opportunity to walk around the lot and see all the cars that they have without anybody bothering you or hustling you.

"I say if it ain't broke, why fix it?"

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