Mel and Carole Daniels left The Mall in Columbia yesterday afternoon with hands full of proof that the century-old blue laws curbing business in Howard County and many other Maryland counties are history.

In one hand, Mel Daniels carried a gallon of Sears paint, and in the other, he clutched a large bag full of painting supplies from the same department store. Carole Daniels wrapped her arms around a large bag from Woodward & Lothrop stuffed with an oversized toss pillow.

The couple, who live in Howard near the Prince George's County border, were two of thousands of Maryland shoppers who took advantage of the first day of Sunday shopping at large department stores such as Sears Roebuck & Co., Woodward & Lothrop and the Hecht Co. as a result of a repeal of laws prohibiting stores with more than six employes from opening on Sundays.

Until yesterday, only six Maryland counties -- including Prince George's and Montgomery -- allowed Sunday sales in large stores. In the spring, the Maryland General Assembly repealed the blue laws in all state counties except for Washington and Allegany in Western Maryland and Wicomico on the Eastern Shore.

Supermarkets and drugstores had been exempt from the restrictions because they were regarded as providing consumers with necessities.

Law enforcement officers did not always enforce the shopping ban, officials said. On some occasions, such as the Christmas shopping season, the state officially suspended enforcement.

The end of the blue laws delighted the Daniels, who once lived in Prince George's. Prince George's and Montgomery repealed their blue laws 10 years ago.

"We moved to Baltimore County after living in Prince George's," Mel Daniels said, "and we couldn't shop there on Sundays. Two years ago, we moved to Howard County, and we couldn't shop here.

"Now, we can shop here seven days a week," he said. "I think it's great. This is my favorite mall."

The Mall in Columbia is only a 15-minute drive from the Daniels' home. "I needed paint today," he said. "If the laws had not been repealed, it would not be Sears paint."

Inside The Mall, shoppers buzzed from store to store. Some of them, like the Danielses, made the shopping trip because The Mall's big three stores -- Hecht's, Sears, and Woodward & Lothrop -- were open on Sunday.

Other shoppers had no idea that Maryland law previously had prohibited some stores from operating on Sundays.

Toby Callendar, 23, of Laurel had just left the Hecht's store with his girlfriend, Jean Yarasheski, and with a newly purchased suit hanging over one shoulder. They said that they had no idea the blue laws had been repealed.

Yarasheski said she thought that ending the shopping restrictions helps people who work long hours during the week. "It's got to be more convenient for working people," she said. "We both work. We shop mostly for suits and clothing at department stores, and we don't always have time to do that on Saturdays."

Eighty percent of the 180 stores in the mall were open yesterday, according to Delores Lashley, assistant general manager. Usually on Sundays, she said, only 50 percent of the stores are open.

Most of the small businesses had increased customer traffic. "As soon as I walked in, I thought this was so many more people," said Ellen Poris, a sales clerk at Ivory & Nautical Traditions, a small gift shop that has long been open on Sundays. "I didn't think we would be so busy because it is a holiday weekend. When this is over, we will really be in trouble."

But Mike Ampula, 18, a salesman at Creative Hobbies, shrugged at the Sunday sales. "No change," he said. "This could be any other Sunday that we have been open."

Employes who work in stores now open on Sundays will probably make the biggest adjustment to the repeal. Rhoda Zaid, 33, has worked part-time for seven years for Raimondi's Flowers. Before yesterday, her Sunday hours were only on special occasions such as Mother's Day.

"It won't be too hard to get used to doing," Zaid said. "Except for today, maybe. Everybody else I know is at a picnic."