For car dealers, Sunday sales remain no-go

Pennsylvania has legalized marijuana for medical use. It has allowed beer sales and slot machines at convenience stories. And efforts are underway to allow Sunday hunting.

But it is still against the law to sell cars on Sundays.

Every once in a while, the notion of selling cars on Sundays in Pennsylvania comes up, but it usually isn’t raised by someone from the industry, noted an official with the Pennsylvania Automotive Association.

Frankly, said Melanie Stine, the questions usually come from the media after there is talk about extending Sunday hours in another industry.

“The dealers like to be closed on Sundays,” said Stine, director of communications for the association, a Harrisburg-based trade group. The day off allows people to spend time with family and friends and to recharge.

“And customers like it, too,” Stine added. “It gives them the chance to walk the lots on Sundays to check out the inventory.”

According to a 2017 article in Ward’s Auto, 18 states ban or restrict car sales on Sundays. The restrictions trace back to a time when retail sales of all sorts were not allowed on Sundays for religious reasons under so-called blue laws. Until recent years, for example, Sunday sales of alcohol were banned in Pennsylvania.

According to Ward’s, the 13 states that still ban vehicle sales on Sundays are Pennsylvania, Colorado, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Maine. The article also noted that Maryland is among the seven states that allow sales on Sundays but have some restrictions. Nevada, Utah, Texas, North Dakota, Michigan and Rhode Island were the others.

‘A level playing field’

Eric Watson, director of operations for Allentown Kia, said he and other dealers occasionally discuss the idea of Sunday sales and rarely is there total agreement.

“It’s something that gets kicked around,” said Watson. “As far as retail, I am sure that it would help us sell vehicles.”

But the thinking also is that sales might not increase, but be spread over seven days instead of six. So that has him and others thinking that a day of rest is good.

And if everyone in the industry is getting the same day off, he explained, then they know “there is a level playing field.”

Watson added that dealerships compete on hours in other ways – such as staying open a bit later during the week or having longer hours on Saturday.

Later this month, the PAA will meet to discuss legislative issues. The agenda likely will include industry-insider goals but wouldn’t include anything about Sunday sales, Stine said, because the organization has remained firmly opposed to the idea.

“That has been our position for years,” Stine said. “And that continues to be our position.”

The Pennsylvania Senate and House legislative websites do not show any initiatives for automotive sales, although there are several proposals involving Sunday hunting.

Several industry experts noted that Sunday car sales could be difficult, as most lenders are not open on Sundays to handle the financing details.

But Hasan A, owner of Lehigh Valley Autoplex in Bethlehem, said that wouldn’t necessarily be an issue because a deal could be reached on a Sunday, with the financing wrapped up the next day. On occasion, an out-of-state buyer might ask about the Sunday rules, but for the most part he doesn’t think the restrictions affect sales, he added.

Watson said he agreed with Stine that customers like to walk the lot on Sundays while no sales people are around.

One recent Sunday morning, he went to his lot to pick up some keys and found about 10 families browsing. While that kicking-the-tires shopping method is a time-honored tradition, at least in Pennsylvania, today’s buyer is much more prepared than the average customer 10 years ago when he was starting out in sales, Watson said. Online research means that customers who walk onto the lot are ready to buy, having narrowed down their choices and options.

Overall, car sales are expected to be strong this year but slightly off from 2018. Charles Cyrill, director of public relations for the National Automobile Dealers Association, pointed to an association report that predicts 2019 will see a decline of about 3 percent over 2018, when 17.3 million units were sold nationwide. The article noted that sales have been above 17 million units for four straight years.

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