Lift ban on Sunday automobile sales

Perhaps you have to drive over to Route 44 (Taunton Avenue), along the East Providence/Seekonk border to get a real sense of why Jim Fox is so perturbed. His East Providence auto dealership, Fox Toyota, sits less than a mile from several Bay State competitors just down the road.

• Six days a week, Fox can compete against those dealers on price, service, selection and any other factor that a consumer considers when purchasing a car.

• But not on Sundays. On Sundays – thanks to an archaic Rhode Island “blue law” – Fox gets his butt kicked. On Sundays, those Ocean State consumers who have finally carved out a couple of hours from their busy weeks to shop for a new car, are gravitating toward places like Seekonk and Attleboro, where they find all the services available during the rest of the week.

Fox has gotten mad enough that he is leading a Superior Court challenge of the Sunday auto sales prohibition. Three other dealers, including Norwood Motor Group, King Richard Suzuki Inc. and Colonial Motor Sales have joined him.

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Fox points out that statistics he gets from Toyota’s home office provide him with data as to where car buyers live and where they are buying their cars. And that data shows him that many Rhode Islanders are passing by his dealership on Sundays and buying a new car just down the street. Making matters worse, say the dealers who have filed the lawsuit, is the fact that car sales translate into financing deals and service relationships. That makes the Sunday sales ban a lose, lose, and lose again proposition for Rhode Island dealers.

Not all Rhode Island auto dealers are signing on with Fox. In fact, the Rhode Island Auto Dealers Association’s official stance supports the status quo. But the majority of its members are not in direct competition with the Bay State dealers the way Fox and the others are.

A stronger argument is that the market should decide where consumers buy their cars. The Sunday auto sales ban is outdated.

Lawmakers should follow their own lead and rescind the antiquated law, the same way they rescinded the ban on Sunday alcohol sales last year. That seems to be working out just fine for liquor stores all over Rhode Island.

Auto dealers who wish to remain closed on Sundays can continue to do so. If they aren’t worried about the Massachusetts dealers that are open now, then they shouldn’t be worried about Rhode Island dealers who do the same.

And Jim Fox shouldn’t have to sit idly by on Sundays while Bay State competitors take a big bite out of his business.