Virginia today ends a long-standing prohibition against opening state liquor stores on Sundays.

A state law that went into effect last week allows 50 stores in Northern Virginia, Norfolk and Virginia Beach to open from 1 to 6 p.m. Sundays. Virginia ended the ban on Sunday sales in the hope of raising more money to finance government services. The state legislature this year also approved a 3 percent increase in liquor prices.

"I don't expect to be swamped," said Steven Zimney, manager of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control store in Sterling. "Two of us can handle the opening for five hours."

At a Norfolk store, employees said they didn't know what to expect today because only small window signs and word-of-mouth have been the primary advertisements of Sunday sales.

Many people who went to the ABC store at Bradlee Shopping Center in Alexandria over the weekend never noticed the letter-size signs.

"They need to say, 'Wow!' or 'New!' in bright colors," said Evan Diamond of Glenwood. "They're very generic."

Previously, liquor was available for purchase on Sundays only in the state's bars and restaurants. Beer and wine are available throughout the week at supermarkets and other retail stores.

"No one has even mentioned [the change] to me," said Annandale resident Boupha Soulatha, 22. "And I'm in that age group when everyone talks about drinking."

Virginia's 285 ABC stores are the only places to purchase hard liquor for home consumption. Virginia is one of 18 states that retain such control of liquor sales.

The District and Maryland issue liquor licenses for private retailers, though Montgomery County operates its own liquor stores.

Sunday sales have begun in 10 states in the past 21/2 years, according to Frank Coleman, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a Washington-based trade group.

Before approving Sunday openings, the Virginia General Assembly debated the economics of Sunday sales and public safety issues.

Some legislators said they were concerned that Sunday sales would increase the number of people drinking and driving. Supporters of the measure said people who pick up a bottle at the neighborhood ABC store on a Sunday probably would be drinking at home.

State officials were concerned about losing revenue to other jurisdictions offering Sunday hours. Northern Virginians could travel to the District and Maryland; in the Hampton Roads area, the competition came from military bases.

Many ABC store customers said the Sunday openings are convenient but won't necessarily change their consumption habits.

"Sunday's a weird day to want liquor. Unless we finish this bottle [of tequila] tonight, I wouldn't come back tomorrow," Soulatha said. "But you never know."

But Melanie Griffin of Alexandria said, "I have stopped by on a Sunday and said, 'Oops, it's not open,' so it might change our behavior."