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How Curious: Why Can’t You Buy A Car In Oklahoma On Sunday?

Oct 15, 2019

KGOU listener John Potts noticed every auto dealership in the state is closed on Sunday, so he asked How Curious for an explanation. It turns out that Oklahoma is one of several states that forbids motor vehicle sales on Sundays.

Blue Laws

Sunday car sales have been prohibited in Oklahoma since 1959. The statute is one of several so-called “blue laws” that is still on the books.  

Blue laws restrict Sunday activities, and they date back centuries. Some say they are known as blue laws because the earliest Sunday restrictions were printed on blue paper. Others say the term comes from the legislation’s goal of encouraging “true blue,” or faithful behavior. 

According to David Laband, co-author of Blue Laws: The History, Economics, and Politics of Sunday-Closing Laws, ancient Roman emperors had edicts proscribing certain activities on days of worship.

Blue laws began to appear in the United States by the early 17th century. Banned Sunday activities included things like plowing and traveling between states.

By 1931, all 48 states, except California, had enacted blue laws, according to the Oklahoma History Center. State and municipal governments banned a wide array of Sunday activities, from alcohol and tobacco sales, to boxing, to serving warrants and subpoenas. 

Laband said there is little research on why states passed specific laws. 

Oklahoma’s First Territorial Legislature included blue laws in the 1890 statutes, and “Sabbath breaking” is still technically on the books. Local authorities cited several state residents under the law in the 1950s, including Midwest City Chevrolet dealer Paul Hudiburg, who was accused of Sunday selling along with nine salesmen. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, groups like the Oklahoma Retail Merchants Association and the Save Our Sundays Committee petitioned for a law requiring all businesses to close either Saturday or Sunday each week. The petitions were unsuccessful, according to the Oklahoma History Center. 

Many states have gradually repealed blue laws since the 1950s, which Laband said may be connected to declining church attendance and membership in the United States. 

“With that decline in religiosity has surely also come a decline in people who would fight removing blue laws in the legislatures,” Laband said.

“Sunday Is For The Lord And Football”

Bob Brice manages sales at  Automax Hyundai in Norman. He thinks Oklahoma car dealership owners would prefer to be open on Sunday, but staff members are grateful for the weekly respite. 

 “We work 70 hours a week as it is. We need a break like anybody else. Sunday is a day for the Lord--and football,” Brice said. 

“I think if you were going to choose a day to be closed, Sunday would probably be the better day of the seven,” said Sherad Cravens, a marketing instructor at the University of Oklahoma’s Price College of Business. 

Cravens said consumers tend to adjust their purchasing habits around business hours, and car shopping is generally a time-consuming process. 

“It’s something that you’re going to research, you’re going to think about. So if you’re making a car purchase, you’re probably either going to take a day off or a half day and plan to go,” he said, adding that car dealerships are usually  busiest on holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July. 

The market for cars is also shifting. Brands like Carvana let consumers buy a car online and pick it up from a “car vending machine” or have it delivered to their home. 

So whether Oklahoma’s Sunday-closing laws stay on the books or not, people will probably spend their Sundays however they want, whether that’s online shopping, snooping around a car lot or indulging in some Netflix.

How Curious is a production of KGOU Radio. It's produced by Claire Donnelly. This episode was edited by Jacob McCleland and Caroline Halter. David Graey composed the theme music. Email your questions about Oklahoma to curious@kgou.org. Subscribe to the How Curious podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast app.

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