Rossville OKs al­co­hol ref­er­en­dums

The Catoosa County News - - FRONT PAGE - By Mike O’Neal

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.

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