Want a restaurant’s mar­garita on a Sunday? That’s banned in Hillsdale County.

Little-known Sunday sales laws called “blue laws” pro­hibit bars and restau­rants in Hillsdale County from serving liquor on Sundays.

Restau­rants in Hillsdale County cannot serve liquor on Sundays and must wait till after noon on weekends to serve beer and wine. Wiki­media

Hillsdale County res­i­dents voted in the 1980 general election to pro­hibit Sunday liquor sales. Almost 40 years later, Hillsdale is the only Michigan city that hasn’t over­turned this restriction.

Hillsdale County Pros­e­cuting Attorney Neal Brady said the laws have reli­gious origins.

“I would guess the laws are probably a com­promise dating back to Pro­hi­bition,” Brady said. “It’s obvi­ously a moral issue, to try to pre­serve the Sabbath so that people are less inclined to be intox­i­cated all day, and to go to church instead.”

But today, the law dis­ap­points those who want a mar­garita on Sunday and frus­trates local business owners.

El’ Cerrito Manager Louis Vega said about one out of every two cus­tomers ask for hard alcohol on Sundays.

“Almost 50 percent of people who come in on Sunday say, ‘I want a mar­garita’ or ‘It’s been a long week, I want a mar­garita,’” he said. “Some people get so excited, but I have to let them down.”

Vega said he hadn’t looked into the require­ments for changing the law, but Kevin Conant, co-owner of Here’s To You Pub and Grub, said he had.

“We tried two elec­tions ago to get 1,400 sig­na­tures from reg­is­tered voters to get the issue on the ballot, but we fell about 600 sig­na­tures short,” Conant said. “It’s just hard to find reg­is­tered voters who actually care. Liquor sales rep­resent about 20 percent of our [total] sales, so 20 percent of every Sunday is a pretty big number.”

Michigan Gov. Jen­nifer Granholm in 2010 signed Act 213, which changed a state law barring Sunday hard alcohol sales for “both retail estab­lish­ments and in an estab­lishment deriving more than half of its gross receipts from the sale of food and other goods.” This allowed both kinds of estab­lishment to sell hard alcohol on Sundays starting at 7 a.m. if the business pur­chased a “Sunday Sales” permit, and if the local gov­ernment allowed it.

The Michigan Liquor Control Com­mission dis­tin­guishes between two types of Sunday sales permits for on-premise restau­rants: the “A.M.” permit allows the sale of liquor, beer, and wine on Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. until noon, while the “P.M.” permit allows liquor sales from noon on Sunday to 2:30 a.m. on Monday. Beer and wine can be sold after noon without a permit. But the state law also allows local gov­ern­ments to restrict Sunday liquor sales.

In the 1980 general pres­i­dential election, Hillsdale County voted to pro­hibit busi­nesses from serving liquor on Sundays, according to a doc­ument pro­vided by Hillsdale County Clerk Marney Kast.

The doc­ument states Hillsdale County res­i­dents voted not to permit the sale of spirits for con­sumption at estab­lish­ments “in which the gross receipts derived from the sale of food or other goods and other ser­vices sales exceed 50 percent of the total gross receipts.”

According to a November 2015 list pub­lished by the MLCC, Hillsdale is the only county to pro­hibit restau­rants and bars from serving liquor all day on Sundays, though three vil­lages in Michigan have the same restric­tions, and 16 cities, town­ships, and vil­lages pro­hibit sales of packaged liquor on Sundays. Other local gov­ern­ments only pro­hibit Sunday morning liquor sales.

Hillsdale Market House also does not need a Sunday permit to sell packaged liquor on Sundays.

Michigan is one of 18 states that monop­olize the sale of spirits — meaning beer, wine, and liquor.

Retail stores must comply with the Michigan Licensing and Reg­u­latory Affairs minimum price list, which sets the minimum selling price for alcohol and product selection, that can change up to four times a year. Also, liquor licenses are costly to acquire. A business must do the fol­lowing to apply: submit up to 11 forms, pay a $70 non­re­fundable inspection fee and an annual $150 license fee, submit proof of property own­ership and pur­chase, and pay an addi­tional fee if requesting mul­tiples permits or licenses.

Vega said the complex reg­u­la­tions forced El’ Cerrito to buy two liquor licenses, one for each side of the restaurant.

“They con­sidered this side as another restaurant, so they made us get another license, because we were gonna have more hard liquor and beer,” Vega said.

Con­fusing clauses and complex restric­tions appear to plague alcohol sales laws in Hillsdale. The police department had to look up the Sunday sales laws when asked about them, and other county offi­cials were uncertain of the restric­tions since the MLCC enforces them.