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Seminole considers relaxing blue law

A proposed ordinance would let businesses begin selling alcohol at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. on Sundays.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 14, 2003

SEMINOLE - Worried that his bar and package store are losing business to cities such as St. Petersburg and Madeira Beach, Stan Mioduszewski has asked the City Council to relax its rules regulating Sunday alcohol sales.

All seven elected officials agreed last week: Restaurants, bars and stores could begin selling alcohol at 11 a.m. instead of 1 p.m.

The proposed ordinance will have its first public hearing at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 in council chambers, 9200 113th St. N. A second and final public hearing will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 24.

The earlier hour might boost business at Mioduszewski's bar, but it won't help his package store much. Unlike St. Petersburg, Largo and some beach communities, Seminole is not planning to end a longtime ban on selling packaged hard liquor on Sundays.

"They can see it. They can touch it. But they can't have it," said Mioduszewski, who owns the Park Lounge at 8556 Park Blvd.

Mioduszewski's situation is not unique. Most municipalities still follow Pinellas County's laws on Sundays: No alcohol sales before 1 p.m. and no sales of packaged hard liquor all day.

But that's evolving as more and more cities pass their own rules. Leading the pack is St. Petersburg, which loosened its blue law in June. Madeira Beach and Treasure Island followed, adopting ordinances allowing vendors to sell alcohol starting at 10 a.m. and lifting bans on hard liquor sales.

New rules start today in Largo, where restaurants, bars and stores can sell alcohol, including packaged liquor, at 11 a.m. And now Seminole is poised to make a change.

Blue laws were established as a special act of the Florida Legislature in the 1960s and adopted by the county in 1980, when Pinellas established home rule.

Thus, county attorneys claim, only the County Commission can authorize a change; in August, it challenged St. Petersburg's decision.

Two weeks later, county commissioners decided it was better to ask all of Pinellas' two dozen cities to come up with a consensus on a blue law. Bennett said the county is awaiting a response from the Pinellas Mayors Council.

Seminole City Planner Mark Ely said the city wants to be in compliance with the county, which prohibits the sale of packaged hard liquor on Sundays. County attorney Jim Bennett said commissioners are more concerned about when alcohol may be sold than whether packaged liquor may be sold on Sundays. If that's what the community wants, he said, then the law should reflect that.

But county officials still want a consensus so the blue law won't create problems for law enforcement officials.

Or for store clerks. Mioduszewski said one of his employees "took a blasting" from a customer on a recent Sunday after she told him that he couldn't buy a bottle of spirits. He said he'd take his business elsewhere.

"I don't want to see my employees go through this," said Mioduszewski, whose family has owned the Park Lounge for more than four decades.

Other restaurants and bars in Seminole that sell alcohol also would appreciate an earlier start time.

"I think it's a good idea," said Mike Loewus, general manager of Boomerz, a sports bar on Seminole Boulevard.

Loewus said he was at a bar in St. Petersburg at 11 a.m. on a recent Sunday, and it was packed. He said he's losing customers to cities where football fans can enjoy cold beers before kickoff.

Lani Atkins, a shift supervisor at Boulevard Bistro, a restaurant on Seminole Boulevard in unincorporated Pinellas, said she often gets requests for alcohol during Sunday brunch.

"The remark I hear most often is, "Oh yeah, they only do that in St. Pete,' " Atkins said.

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