Maryland's colonial-era law prohibiting large stores from opening for business on Sundays will officially end this week, and store owners are getting ready for that first Sunday shopping day.

On July 5 department stores will be free to open on Sunday. The statewide repeal of the so-called blue laws makes Sunday shopping legal in all but three counties -- Allegany, Washington and Wicomico.

Sunday shopping currently is allowed in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Small retailers and grocery stores were exempted from the ban.

"There was a lot of confusion about existing blue laws," said Angelo Arena, chairman of Hutzler's. "It seemed ridiculous that you could shop at a store with fewer than seven {employes} and couldn't shop in others.

"People like Hutzler's, Macy's and Hecht's have such a high profile that they could't take a chance on opening and violating the law. But other stores did open, and that added to the inequity," Arena said.

Some stores will delay their opening until August, when back-to-school promotions begin. Others are eager to boost their competitiveness and sales now.

"I'm looking for a 3 percent or 4 percent increase from sales on Sundays," said William Ceglia, manager of the J.C. Penney store in Security Mall near Baltimore.

Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retail Association, said some merchants should do better than others.

"The theory has been that malls will be open and do a lot of business," said Saquella said. "Strip shopping centers probably won't see as much change."

Under the state's new law, full-time workers will not be forced to work on Sunday and will be allowed to choose a "day of rest." They will not be scheduled to work on that day of rest.