The change will force a shift in lifestyles in the conservative county, challenging Christian traditions of a Sabbath set aside for church, family and rest.
This fiscal year, Lexington likely will meet a state standard that automatically eliminates Sunday sales restrictions without a vote by anyone, officials said last week.
A 1985 set of laws governing sales on Sundays, commonly called blue laws, requires a county to lift restrictions if its accommodations tax collections reach $900,000 during any fiscal year.
Lexington collected $843,306 from customers at motels, campgrounds and other kinds of lodging during its fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the state tax agency.
That is $56,694 short of the legal trigger to override sales restrictions that county voters approved in 1996. The sales ban affects thousands of items and keeps many stores closed until 1:30 p.m.
Restrictions on Sunday alcohol sales would remain in place regardless of changes in store hours.
Tourism and motel promoters say the rising tide of accommodations tax collections is coming from more visitors filling rooms, increasing room rates and construction of more lodging.
“While I breathe, I’m working very hard to make it happen,” Miriam Atria, president of Lake Murray Country, said of the prospect of lifting blue laws after July 1, 2008.
Critics says the restrictions are confusing. For example, they prohibit buying shoes before 1:30 p.m. on Sundays but allow buying hosiery all day. Many necessities cannot be bought but souvenirs and novelties can be sold.
But eliminating Sunday sales restrictions rings like heresy in some quarters.
“The Fourth Commandment is to remember the Sabbath,” said the Rev. Ben Sloan of Lake Murray Presbyterian Church. “The whole idea of the Sabbath has been whittled down to just a few hours.
“To those people it’s merely an inconvenience,” Sloan said of sales restrictions. “But to Christians, it is a matter that goes to their souls, and it creates a real tension for us.”
But advocates of commerce say attractions such as Lake Murray, large Columbia-area malls, Riverbanks Zoo, major interstates and aggressive marketing, which has attracted sporting tournaments, have combined to pay financial dividends.
“I would be very surprised if we did not hit (the $900,000 standard) this fiscal year,” said state Rep. Ted Pitts, R-Lexington, a longtime advocate of eliminating sales restrictions.
Pitts said the change would not keep anyone from attending church services.
But to many in the religious community, unlimited sales would bring stark and sweeping changes.