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Sunday Beer Sales

Liquor stores, such as this one in Batesville, would still keep their doors shut on Sundays if a proposed ordinance passes. But beer would be sold to the public at convenience stores and grocery stores, and consumed at restaurants, if the ordinance passes. The Panolian photo by John Howell Sr.

Other municipalities mull Sunday beer sales

By Billy Davis

The hot button issue of Sunday alcohol sales in Batesville follows a similar pattern happening in other Mississippi municipalities.

Tupelo is also considering Sunday sales, spurred by the same discussion now under way in rival town Starkville.

Like Batesville, the call to action revolves around money.

Starkville and Tupelo compete for tourism and convention dollars, and Tupelo could lose business if Starkville allows Sunday sales, say proponents of a Tupelo ordinance. 

Tupelo’s City Council considered the issue in 2002 but voted it down, according to an August 9 story in the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.

In Batesville, the money issue more directly relates to tax revenue, which has been waning during the current recession.

Alderman-at-Large Teddy Morrow publicly floated the idea of Sunday beer sales at a June meeting, when he passed out figures for tax revenue and other statistics. 

Figures cited by Morrow, and shared with Mayor Jerry Autrey and other aldermen, showed that 16 percent of beer sales in grocery stores, and 14 percent of beer sales in convenience stores, occur on Sunday.

In Batesville, 41 grocery and convenience stores sold $3.4 million of beer in 2008, generating $242,421 in sales tax for the city.

The new Batesville ordinance, if passed, would allow restaurants to serve beer, and also would allow grocery stores and convenience stores to sell it as well.

The proposed hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for store sales and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. for restaurant or “on-premises” sales.

The ordinance would not affect liquor stores, which are closed on Sundays.

Alderman Morrow has since become the de facto lead proponent of Sunday beer sales, though he was reluctant to assume that role when he spoke to a reporter last week.

He said he supports the idea because of its economic impact but he intends to remain open-minded when opponents of the proposed ordinance line up to speak at a September 1 public hearing.

Asked what opponents must say to persuade him, Morrow could not cite an example, though he acknowledged there is a moral issue involved.

Morrow also stated that he occasionally drinks alcohol and does so responsibly. But he turned that topic back to taxes and revenue, reporting on the discussions under way in Tupelo and Starkville.

Oxford is also discussing Sunday beer sales, he said.

According to Morrow, all four municipalities haven been beaten by the little town of Pope, which allows Sunday beer sales at J.D.’s Quick Stop.

Pope Mayor Ricky Briscoe, reached Monday, confirmed that Morrow was correct.

“We passed it in March,” he said. 

“A lot of people who are for this – they’re not big drinkers,” Morrow said. “They just think it would be good for the city.”

When opponents of the ordinance speak on September 1, Batesville resident Harry Bryan intends to be among them. He plans to present alcohol-related statistics to refute the economic figures heralded by Morrow.

“Every coin has two sides,” Bryan said. “You can call our statistics a comparative analysis.” 

Bryan was among three people who voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance, when the trio – Bryan,  First Baptist music minister Mark Jones and veterinarian Dr. Walter Hudson – spoke at an August 4 city board meeting.

“I’ve seen too many families torn apart by alcohol. Nothing good comes from it,” said Jones of his statements to the mayor and board. 

A petition drive has begun to oppose the Sunday beer sales, Jones told churchgoers at the most recent Sunday service.

At the city meeting, Alderman Bill Dugger urged the city board to hold a public hearing, but his motion died for lack of a second.

Freshman alderman Eddie Nabors finally seconded Dugger’s motion, citing the apparent opposition to the ordinance. The motion to hold the public hearing then passed 4-0.

Alderman Stan Harrison is recusing himself from the board discussion since he owns Café Ole, a Mexican restaurant that serves beer and liquor.

Board attorney Colmon Mitchell, after researching state Ethics Commission opinions, advised Harrison to recuse himself, according to Mitchell.

Both proponents and opponents of the Sunday sales have said the Batesville Board of Alderman may split its vote 2-2, leaving Mayor Jerry Autrey to cast a deciding vote.

“I know how I would vote. I’m not undecided,” Autrey said last week. “I’m just not going to say.”