SPRINGFIELD | Against the backdrop of big box retailers calling on their employees to work on Thanksgiving this year, there is one sector that continues to hold fast against the 24-7 sales model.
As any Illinois car shopper knows, automobile dealerships are dark on Sundays, thanks largely to a successful lobbying effort by the industry three decades ago.
And its not just a preference, its a law carrying a $1,500 fine that could be enforced by the Illinois secretary of state.
At the time the Sunday ban was enacted, dealers argued a forced Sunday closure would reduce overhead, give hardworking employees a day off and, in doing so, level the playing field so no one could get a leg up on the competition.
That explanation hasn’t changed.
“I still think the majority of our industry supports that,” said Peter Sander, president of the Illinois Automobile Dealers Association.
Beginning next year, however, the issue could become fodder for debate among Illinois lawmakers.
State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, is poised to introduce legislation that would put an end to Illinois’ ban on selling cars on Sundays.
Oberweis, chairman of an Aurora-based dairy and likely candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014, says there is no reason Illinois consumers shouldn’t be allowed to plunk down their cash for a new set of wheels on a Sunday when so many other businesses are open.
“To me, its anti-consumer and it doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Oberweis.
He said the state doesn’t do the same for other businesses worried about competition if they decide to close.
“We let the marketplace decide,” he said. “Even though my dairy doesn’t deliver milk on Sundays, I’m not asking the state to force all grocery stores to stop selling milk that day.”
Oberweis said he booked a meeting with the car lobby earlier this year and found them unwilling to consider a change.
In addition to giving salesman and mechanics a day off, dealers say vehicle insurers and banks also are closed on Sundays, leaving dealers unable to finalize transactions.
“Even if the law was changed, I’d remain closed on Sundays,” said Pete Hedinger, who operates Custom Auto Sales in Bloomington.
Sander said he believes customers also enjoy having one day available to cruise car lots without being chased around by sales people.
“There are advantages for everyone,” he said.
It’s not the first time the issue has surfaced since the law went into effect in 1983.
In 1987, a measure to end the ban met with a furious lobbying effort and it was voted down in a Senate committee.
Sander suggests that’s how the 2014 debate might turn out.
“We’d like to maintain the status quo,” he said.