A bill that would have given towns a choice over whether they would allow mid-sized grocery stores to remain open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter was vetoed by the governor and the veto subsequently was sustained in the House.

Rep. James Gillway, R- Searsport, sponsored the bill at the request of Dale Tozier, owner of Tozier’s Family Market. Under the state’s “blue law,” so-called because of its Puritan roots, grocery stores with more than 5,000 square feet of retail space must close on the three holidays. Before the market’s expansion in 2001 that put it over the square-footage threshold, Tozier said having the option to stay open on Thanksgiving and Easter helped the store get through the winter, and Easter became their biggest shopping day of the year. He chose not to open on Christmas.

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill because he said wants the Legislature to “stop granting piecemeal carve-outs to Maine’s antiquated blue laws,” apparently drawing the line at 33, the number of exemptions currently in place. However, no new exemptions have been added since 2003.

“While I absolutely support the ability of these businesses to remain open on these three days,” LePage wrote in his veto letter, “I also support the ability of other non-exempt businesses to be open when they deem appropriate as well.”

Gillway pointed out there are no current bills in the Legislature proposing repeal of blue laws wholesale, and noted his previous attempts to give broader exemptions failed.

“I presented that the first year and it didn’t work, and I understand why,” he said June 1. “Over three years it evolved into something that gave local control to the municipality. I think this was the best incarnation of the bill.”

Gillway's previous bills on the subject simply added to the law’s long list of exemptions: The first would have exempted all retail from holiday closure requirements, and a second would have exempted all grocery stores under 10,000 square feet.

Gillway’s latest bill, which was supported by the Maine Grocer’s Association and the Maine Retail Association, would have given municipalities control, by allowing them the option to pass an ordinance exempting their 10,000-square-foot or less stores. It initially passed the House with a vote of 71-66 and the Senate with a vote of 20 to 13. The veto override attempt then failed by 5 votes in the House.

All Waldo County representatives voted in favor of overriding the governor's veto, except Stanley Paige Ziegler, D-Montville. He said after 35 years at sea with the Merchant Marines, he knows and appreciates the importance of being home with family on holidays.

“It’s three days a year,” he said. “I wanted to give the people that work in Maine the chance to be with their families.”

The four Tozier's employees we recently interviewed said being open on holidays would "not make a difference" to them or that they would welcome the opportunity to work those days. Tozier said he would give employees the choice over whether they would work on holidays.

Rep. Erin Herbig, D- Belfast, voted in favor of the override, though she was absent from the initial vote in the House and voted against previous versions of the bill.

“Representative Herbig supported it because it had a narrower focus than previous efforts and provided an option for local control,” said Lindsay Crete, communications director for the Maine State House Majority Office. "She would support a similar bill in future sessions."

Gillway is serving his last term as a state representative, so he will not be able to bring the bill back himself, but he anticipates it will come back to the Legislature in its current form.

"It’s coming back because the industry wants it to come back," he said. "And I‘ll be pointing my finger at (the Legislature) saying, 'Give us our local control!'"