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DURHAM, Maine (Reuters) - St. Patrick's Day revelers can get an extra-early start this year in Maine thanks to an emergency measure signed by the governor on Thursday allowing bars and restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 6 a.m.
The Irish-American celebration this year falls on a Sunday, when Maine bans the sale of alcohol before 9 a.m., so bar and restaurant owners sought an exception to the state law.
"St. Patrick's Day isn't just our biggest day. It is four times bigger than any other day," said Daniel Steele, co-owner of Portland's popular Brian Boru Public House, not far from the city's St. Patrick's Day parade route. "So this is a lot of revenue for us, and also generates a lot of sales tax.
"We're delighted that the governor changed his mind."
The measure had seemed doomed due to opposition by Governor Paul LePage, who in a television interview earlier this week dismissed the bill as "garbage."
The Republican governor, locked in a battle with the Democratic-controlled state legislature over nearly $500 million in overdue Medicaid payments, had vowed to veto any and all legislation until his plan for those repayments is passed.
But the governor said he changed his mind after meeting with state Representative Barry Hobbins, a Democrat.
"Mainers know that I am a man of my word," the governor said in a statement. "But I am always open to reasonable suggestions. I'm pleased to sign this bill as a gesture of goodwill and as a supporter of Maine's fine establishments that wish to open earlier on St. Patrick's Day."
One of those pleased with the measure was Maggie Byrnes-Lair, owner of Byrnes' Irish Pub in Bath, Maine, along the coast.
"We'll be open at 6:00," she said, "and we'll be serving lots of Irish coffees and Guinness."
Restaurants and bars typically fare better when the holiday falls on a weekend, Steele said.
"People don't have to work and there's more parking," he said. "And older people especially like to come in early. They come for the dancing and the poetry reading and the Celtic music. For lots of them, it's the one pint they have a year."
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Cynthia Johnston and Andre Grenon