Mary Ann Barca said she remembers when car dealerships were open on Sundays. Barca, who works as the executive manager at Al Piemonte dealerships, including St. Charles Chrysler Dodge Jeep, said Sundays were busy days.
But she said dealerships are better off being closed Sundays, as they are in Illinois, thanks to a law that went into effect in 1983. She said there was tremendous turnover and burnout in the business, and that the industry wouldn't benefit if dealerships were able to be open Sundays, and she said that's why the law was passed in the first place.
"It's just not a good idea," she said. "It really isn't. It would be so hard for everybody involved."
State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, has pushed to allow dealerships to open Sundays. He said making such a law is "just wrong policy, and I will fight that type of government abuse whenever I see it." He said that since 32 states allow car dealerships to be open on Sunday, there should be no problem with having them open in Illinois. He said the law is in place because "the dealers got together and used the government to prevent anyone from being open on Sunday."
"These are self-interests," Oberweis said. "They believe they will save money and save effort from not being open, and that's not the way it works in a free market."
According to www.cyberdriveillinois.com, violating the law is a misdemeanor, and it could cost offenders $1,500. Surrounding states that don't allow dealerships to open on Sundays include Wisconsin, Missouri and Indiana.
Those in the business say there are good reasons not to be open. They point to long hours for some who already work more than 10 hours a day, some for six days a week. They say that since banks aren't open Sundays, arranging financing could be difficult.
"Buying a car back then wasn't as complicated as it is now," Barca said. "You maybe needed three or four documents to sign. … Now, it's just like buying a house."
Ryan Easter, general manager at Bob Jass Chevrloet in Elburn, said if there were complications with loans or banks that could not be resolved, customers could get upset. He said "we would be doing an injustice" in that situation, adding that many customers arrive with the thought that they are going to go home in a new car.
Some say if the law were not there, there would be dealerships that choose to open on Sundays. That, they said, would force others to open, for fear of losing business.
Dave Sloan, president of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association, said it's a "minor inconvenience" that dealerships aren't open on Sunday. Easter said Sunday "is a time for family, a time of worship, a time [employees] can do things in the community."
Sloan said customers enjoy shopping at dealerships when there are no salesmen allowed, so they can look around with less pressure.
Oberweis rejects the arguments as "pure self-interest silliness." He said if people want to take a day off, then do so like any other business, "one person takes off these two days, and the other person takes off these two days … the same thing they do when they go on vacation." He said it is "a total indictment of the industry, if people would rather shop when there are no salesmen around."
Oberweis pointed to examples of retail businesses – such as Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby – that can thrive despite not being open on Sundays. And yet, he said, the leaders of the companies have not gone to legislators and said, "Would you please prevent McDonald's or Burger King from being open on Sunday?" He said if banks being closed would hamper business, "then they won't sell the car to that person on Sunday."
Sloan said he never has heard from customers who wanted dealerships open Sunday. Oberweis said he has heard that. And, as far as complaints, Oberweis said he hears from angry people in the industry, and "I would say that the dealers are much more organized in their comments."
Barca said it's a reality that some dealers would seize the opportunity to open, and that others would follow. But she doesn't think it's right. She said there would have to be finance staffers, management, porters and office staff, "it's not just salespeople who would be here."
"There would be no question, we would be open," she said, but she added that she had another suggestion. "How about Congress stay open on Sundays?"