COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Sunday morning shopping restrictions -- commonly known as blue laws -- appear headed for extinction in Lexington County, the last urban area in South Carolina clinging to the tradition.
But the rush to eliminate them to bring Amazon.com's distribution center to the county is creating concern among some religious leaders and conservative social groups, who view it as commerce trumping respect for the Christian Sabbath.
"It makes Sunday like any other day," said the Rev. Oran Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council. "That's very distressing."
But some county leaders call the change inevitable as retailing evolves into a global effort.
"We live in a different society today," County Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat of Irmo said. "In order to be business friendly, we have to do things in a different way."
The push for repeal -- with a goal of making it happen as soon as Dec. 23 -- comes with the arrival of the new distribution center near Cayce, a project expected to bring 1,249 jobs by 2013 and up to 2,500 temporary seasonal ones.
Company officials want an end to the restrictions to avoid hindering their around-the-clock sales, county officials said.
Abolishing the limits was a dealbreaker for the online retailing giant, Jeffcoat said.
The demand tipped the scales in favor of repeal, a longtime goal of other major retailers in Lexington County.
Pressure for elimination has been strong in the Harbison area, where zigzagging county lines impose restrictions maddening to merchants and shoppers alike.
Some business leaders are surprised but happy with the push to do away with the limits quickly.
"It caught everybody kind of flat-footed, but the time for it has come," said Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre, president of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce.
The restrictions are a hodgepodge of controls on what can and can't be sold before 1:30 p.m. Sundays.
As a result, some retailers are forced to rope off sections of their stores to prevent sales earlier than allowed, while others can't open at all in those hours.
Allowing retailers to sell everything but alcoholic beverages then "is not consistent with God's regulation to rest and restrain ourselves from materialism" on days of worship, said the Rev. Ben Sloan of Lake Murray Presbyterian Church.
The church near Chapin is in Richland County, where the limits ended a few years ago. Several of its members live in Lexington County.
Critics call the limits confusing and inconsistent.
"Those restrictions are outdated," Batesburg-Leesville Mayor James Wiszowaty said. "Ending them is going to simplify and streamline retailing for everybody."
County officials once thought the limits would end automatically.
Accommodations tax collections came close to a level in 2007 that would have cancelled the controls. But that revenue since has declined significantly, as travel and conventions fell during the lingering recession.
Some county leaders are disappointed that repeal is being forced on the area.
"I'm struggling with it as a Christian," said County Councilman-elect Frank Townsend of Batesburg-Leesville, pastor of a small Baptist church and a businessman.
He views Sunday church attendance as important but says, "I can't legislative morality for others."
So far, no sign of organized opposition to the repeal has developed.
It may be in place to allow merchants to put it into use initially for post-holiday sales Dec. 26.
Halfacre predicts local outlets of national chains mostly will take advantage of the change.
"This is another tool for businesses willing to use it, one some want in our current economy," he said. "To be competitive, we've got to do things differently than we did on the past."
Debbie White of Lexington never thought of shopping on Sundays while growing up in small-town South Carolina in the 1960s.
"We just stayed around the home and took it easy," she said. "I never dreamed it would happen."
Today it's a habit after church and family lunches.
For now, she rules out skipping those activities to shop any earlier on Sundays.
"I won't take advantage of it," White said. "Doing those other things is more important to me."
But the opportunity for her to change her mind promises to become available soon.
Sunday shopping limits are popularly known as blue laws. There are two theories for the nickname, historians say. One is that the first set of limits in colonial America was printed on blue paper. The other is that blue was a putdown of what critics regarded as overly rigid moral codes.
These are current blue laws governing Sunday shopping. Lexington County's efforts to repeal them would lift the bans and penalties on such purchases.
--Items that can't be sold before 1:30 p.m.: Clothing and accessories except for swimwear, novelties, souvenirs, hosiery and underwear; housewares, dishes, glassware and kitchenware; home, business and office furnishings and appliances; tools, paint, hardware, building supplies and lumber; jewelry, silverware, watches, clocks, luggage, musical instruments, recorders, recordings, radios, television sets, phonographs, record players or hi-fi or stereo sets and other audio equipment; sporting goods except those sold at sporting events and recreational facilities; fabric; and motor vehicles.
--Penalty for violations: Fine of $50-250 for first offense, rising to $100-500 for subsequent offenses, according to state law
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