Asheville City’s Sunday Blue Laws

What were Asheville’s Sunday Blue Laws? They are a little hard to pin down and they changed over time. Sunday legislation in general featured the idea of “rest for toilers and the assurance of avoiding giving offense by noise and tumult.” Many cities and states had them, and some still do. It is still illegal to sell alcohol in North Carolina on Sundays before 12:00 noon.

It appears, through the Asheville newspaper coverage of blue laws, that they were mostly meant to keep Sundays un-commercialized , which followed along with the idea of the importance of having a day of rest. A few things I’ve found: In a book titled Charter and Ordinances of the City of Asheville, June, 1884 there is mention made in terms of the corporate limits of the city to no person being allowed to load or unload any wagon used for hauling on the Sabbath; no person could sell or give away any intoxicating drinks of any kind; and also it was unlawful for any barber to keep open their places of business on Sunday. There must have been following ordinances and amendments made to establish further Blue Laws.

In 1898 alderman voted unanimously to allow the sale of ice on Sunday.

In 1899 the police visited the Candy Kitchen, then at 28 Patton Avenue, to uphold a blue law saying “one could not order ice cream on Sunday without first taking a lunch and that lunch could not consist of cake.” The proprietor, Mr. Theobold, solved that situation by sending out for a ham and ham sandwiches were served with the ice cream as desert.

ham sandwiches
“Asheville Daily Gazette” June 13, 1899

In 1905 the alderman adopted a “liberal” ordinance to allow the selling of soda water, fruits and candies on Sunday. The following day a meeting of indignant ministers of Asheville was held to protest the adoption of said ordinance.

Jumping up to April 1934, the entertainment ban was lifted by city council allowing for Sunday amusements, declaring that baseball and theaters were okay between the hours of 1:00 and 7:00. Billiards, ten pins and pool at any time on Sunday were still forbidden, and the new ordinance also kept code making it unlawful for any merchant, trader, dealer, firm, or person to keep open any shop or business establishment on Sunday. This did not apply to filling stations, garages drug stores and bakeries which could be open and sell certain items. This seems to be about when things started getting a little sticky. But, at any rate, on May 6th, 1934 over 6,000 people attended McCormick Field and theaters for the first time in Asheville’s history.

“Asheville Citizen” Theater ad showing new Sunday hours, May 13, 1934.

As discount and chain stores began moving in and were in the habit of being open on Sundays in other places, Asheville voters pushed back and in 1965 with 7,378 people voting for and 6,552 against they voted in what became to be seen as absurd Blue Laws. City Manager J. Weldon Wier wrapped it up by saying, “If you can’t eat it, read it or use it on your person, it is illegal to sell it.” While not specifically banning merchants to be closed on Sunday, many stores, including Ingles groceries and K-Mart, recognizing public opinion, closed. Items such as furniture, clothing and hardware could not be sold. While working on how to enforce these laws, Police Chief A. R. Sluder commented: “A man can buy a house on Sunday but he can’t buy something to put on his back if he is cold.”

The city Blue Law was repealed in a 4-2 vote by city council in 1970.

Leave a comment if you have a remembrance of Asheville’s Sunday blue laws.

Post by Zoe Rhine, Librarian

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