, Salem, MA

November 15, 2012

Locals weigh in on the blue-law blues

By Alan Burke Staff writer
The Salem News

---- — To some, the Massachusetts blue laws are an unwanted vestige of the distant past. For others, they are a welcome respite from a world overburdened with materialism. In recent years, they’ve been cut back and battered with. For example, Sunday’s now a busy shopping day.

Still standing, however, is the prohibition against retailers selling their goods on Thanksgiving.

That’s created a backlash with national chains like Target and Sears plotting to get a jump on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, with near-midnight openings that observe the letter but not the spirit of the law. Meanwhile, some have suggested doing away with all the hypocrisy and simply letting people shop when they please.

A random survey of North Shore shoppers found a split between those free thinkers who would welcome an end to the laws and those who consider a day without the buzz of the electronic cash register a blessing.

“I don’t like the idea,” Elaine Maxwell said as she worked arranging a bouquet at Ward’s Florist on Lynnfield Street in Peabody. Commerce is important, she believes, “but there needs to be time for something else. For family. For yourself. For something other than your employer.”

Maxwell also suggests that the change in the law — while it surely wouldn’t require retailers to open on Thanksgiving — will touch off a competitive cycle forcing those who would otherwise keep the doors locked to open up.

“There’s too much pressure on people to keep up the pace,” she said. “The pace needs to stop.”

Some might wish to find an open store on Thanksgiving or Christmas in order to buy last-minute supplies or gifts, but Maxwell has little sympathy for them.

“If I can’t get it on time, then I haven’t planned well enough,” she said.

On the other hand, Anna Carpenter of Danvers doesn’t see the worry. She’s already working at CVS and is accustomed to being called in on the days when others are not.

“I actually volunteer to work on holidays,” she said. “We get time and a half.”

Carpenter admits to remembering an era decades ago when seemingly everything was closed on Sundays year-round. She didn’t much like it.

“I think you should be able to buy what you want every day of the week,” she said. “I think it’s archaic to tell people they can’t.”

The blue laws, of course, originated in Colonial times when the Puritan settlers were anxious for citizens to keep holidays holy days.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Bob Forbes of Ipswich said.

His first reaction was to endorse the notion of eliminating the blue laws. But when reminded that it might mean people have to work on holidays, he pulled back. “I don’t think people should be forced to work on those days.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that the law might not be able to protect those who opt out.

“I don’t know how you would do that,” Forbes said, shaking his head.

“It’s up to people if they want to shop on that day,” Melissa McCormack of Danvers said. She concedes that she wouldn’t be happy working on Thanksgiving. Fortunately, it doesn’t come up. “I don’t work in retail.” And she believes that’s an option everyone has, to find work in fields that might leave them free on holidays.

“We have flex time where I work,” she said. “I worked on Veterans Day. But I had Columbus Day off.”

Meanwhile, she pointed out, a lot of jobs have always required holiday scheduling, and she named nurses as an example.

Stores in his area will likely open at midnight on Thanksgiving, said Steve Renford of Windham, N.H. He winces at the notion of abandoning all restrictions.

“It’s getting to the point where there will be no such thing as a holiday for some people,” he said.

In an emergency, he said, desperate shoppers can always turn to the 7-Eleven.

Renford knows about missing Thanksgiving. He recalled working for foreign companies, in Israel and Holland, spending the day on the job. “Thanksgiving was nothing for them.”

But he was able, sometimes, to round up a group of expatriates, fellow Americans, and arrange a feast. On such occasions, the holiday takes on an added importance. In a foreign land, there’s little more satisfying than a day of quiet reflection and a taste of home.