Rossville OKs alcohol referendums
Voter turnout was low — 132 of 2,287 registered voters, less than 6 percent — but the outcome of Rossville’s special election last week was a resounding “yes” to amending local laws that regulate alcoholic beverage sales.
That low turnout did provide one unforeseen benefit.
Shortly after the polls closed Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m., lights at the Rossville Civic Center went out when severe storms swept across the area.
“The city uses paper ballots so there was no problem with voting machines, but the outage left everyone in the dark,” said Russanna Jenkins, the city’s elections superintendent. “Everybody had a flashlight and it didn’t take long for six people to count 132 ballots. We were finished by about 7:45 p.m.”
Each ballot consisted of two referendum questions with simple “yes” or “no” answers.
When asked whether to permit serving liquor by the drink in restaurants, voters approved by a nearly 2-1 margin with 87 “yes” votes versus 45 “no” votes.
Results of a referendum that would expand existing laws regarding the package/take-out sale of fermented beverages (wine, beer, porter, stout, etc. ) to allow sales on Sunday were slightly closer. But not by much: 83 approved and 49 disapproved of the change that would allow grocery and convenience stores to sell alcoholic beverages between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
This election was the result of requests from one restaurant and one convenience store to revise Rossville’s ordinances. Both cited the fact that surrounding cities — in Tennessee and Georgia — have allowed Sunday and distilled spirit sales for years.
Being an island in a sea of beer, booze and wine availability put Rossville retailers at a competitive disadvantage.
La Familia Mexican Restaurant, located in the heart of Rossville, is within a few miles from similar eateries in East Ridge, Chattanooga and Fort Oglethorpe.
Paulina Martinez, the restaurant’s owner, said changing the law could be a boost for all Rossville businesses.
“When I opened, nobody knew who we were,” she said, adding that La Familia served meals for months before applying for a wine and beer license.
“It has been a journey,” Martinez said of the 99-seat restaurant. “The most challenging part has been educating people.”
But working with groups that are actively trying to revitalize Rossville has led to a new openness to helping bring customers to the city, not just to one restaurant or store, but to the entire community.
The aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats” is often used to describe economic growth and is something Faith Pressley, owner of Creighton’s Wildflowers, which is a few blocks from La Familia, agrees with.
Pressley said that people who visit Martinez’ business will likely visit her’s and vice versa.
“Increased revenue in Rossville is good for everybody,” she said.
Increased sales tax revenue from alcoholic beverages will be welcome by the city, as will the funds from for licenses fees. But more importantly, the new ordinance makes Rossville more attractive to entrepreneurs, as being able to sell adult beverages can mean the difference between profitability and being forced to close.
Restrictions on what
percentage of sales must come from food rather than alcoholic beverages will prevent a proliferation of bars, but should not drive restaurateurs away. Instead, the new ordinances might make Rossville attractive to national chain and franchise restaurants who see the potential profits from alcoholic beverage sales as critical for success.
But it will be a few months, at least, before the election results will likely be felt. The city attorney must now draft
ordinances that must be presented in two public readings before a final city council vote will make them law.
Only then can applications for necessary licenses be made.
Even so, supporters and city boosters see the result of the referendums being approved last week as just another step in the movement to revitalize Rossville.
Staff writer Josh O’Bryant contributed to this story.