(John Long, Hartford Courant / February 24, 2013)

Nine months after the controversial Sunday alcohol sales proposal became law, supermarket operators are pleased and package store owners are not — just as critics predicted last year.

Consumers, who were at the heart of the legislation, have been pulling beer off the supermarket shelves at an increased pace with the added convenience of 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays and summer holidays.

Stan Sorkin, the president of an association that represents about 300 supermarkets statewide, said beer sales are up about 8 percent overall statewide in their stores.

"Stores near the border are up approximately 20 percent,'' Sorkin said. "For us, it's worked out the way we thought it would. … To tell the consumer you can't buy beer on a Sunday is a very negative connotation. That was a very backward policy.''

But most of the state's package store owners are not pleased, saying they aren't seeing the same increase. They say they have failed to make any substantial profits and essentially have broken even since the new law took effect last May 20.

"If there was an increase in beer [sales], it didn't go to my people," said Carroll Hughes, chief lobbyist for the Connecticut Package Stores Association.

Instead, Hughes said, the retailers have seen higher costs and not much in the way of increased sales on Sunday, according to a survey he conducted after the busy Christmas and New Year's season.

"They don't feel they did anything more with this noble experiment of Sunday sales,'' Hughes said. "They're telling me they broke even. I'm not surprised on the conclusions of my people. Even if you break even, you've increased your expenses.''

In a compromise after decades of avoiding Sunday sales, the package stores agreed not to fight the legislation last year after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy made a major push for changes in the liquor industry. Malloy had wanted a series of other changes, but the compromise was 52 Sunday openings, plus the Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day holidays that Hughes noted were sunny, warm days with brisk sales.

Since Sunday sales are still optional, Hughes said about 50 of the state's 1,150 package stores have chosen to remain closed that day. The increased sales on Sunday, he said, clearly went to supermarkets, which are allowed by law to sell beer but not wine or hard liquor.

"It all went to the supermarkets, which is where people are on Sunday,'' Hughes said. "It didn't cost the food stores a penny to get an extra two percent of the business. … We said all along that the people are in the supermarkets on Saturday and Sunday.''

Dominic Alaimo, who operates an Enfield package store that is two miles south of the Massachusetts border, has a completely different view. For years, Alaimo has been the most outspoken supporter of Sunday sales among package store owners — refusing to join Hughes' association or pay dues.

"For me, it's been going fantastic,'' Alaimo said in an interview. "I'd like them to add more hours to Sunday as an option — two more hours.''

Alaimo rejects the complaint from other retailers that paying for utilities on Sundays is an issue, saying overhead at his small store is minimal.

"The utilities are running even when I'm not there,'' he said. "The coolers are on.''

Alaimo predicts that, on a full-year basis, he could generate an additional $100,000 per year in gross sales, about $2,000 for each Sunday.

Noting that his Route 5 store is a straight shot down the road from the Massachusetts border, Alaimo concedes that the success or failure of Sunday sales is often reliant on geography.

Some officials say nine months is not enough time to draw firm conclusions.

Ben Jenkins, a spokesman for the national Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, said his group would need at least a full year of data in order to analyze the results. Known as DISCUS, the group has testified consistently in favor of Sunday sales in Connecticut and around the country. Along with the Connecticut Food Association, which represents supermarkets, DISCUS paid for full-page newspaper advertisements to push for Sunday sales.

Sorkin, the president of the supermarket association, agreed that a year's worth of data would be more conclusive.