Chamber members support alcohol by the drink
Local businesses overwhelmingly support creation of a “liquor by the drink” ordinance in unincorporated Newton County, according to a recent survey of member businesses conducted by the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce.
Of 209 businesses surveyed, 88 percent said they would support an “ordinance that allowed alcohol sales in restaurants, hotels and other preapproved establishments (and/or select overlay zonings) in unincorporated Newton County.”
“Growth for Newton County has been stagnant in the past year. Taxes go to counties around us that allow this practice,” responded one business. All responses were anonymous. “It is hard to entice corporate and industrial locations if they do not have facilities available that provide options for entertaining clients.”
Other respondents said similar ordinances have helped other cities attract chain restaurants, while a few said they would only support an ordinance that limited bythe-drink sales to certain approved, namely denser, zoning districts.
Most respondents, 94 percent, said an ordinance should be put to a vote in a public referendum, and 88 percent said the chamber should support a referendum.
“This issue is central to our economic development efforts. You have to take a stand and encourage passage,” said one business.
Other businesses said they felt the chamber should remain impartial on the issue, while some felt the chamber should support a referendum
but not necessarily liquor sales. Several simply said, “Let the voters decide.”
Regarding allowing Sunday sales, 73.2 percent of respondents said they would be in favor.
“This is a non-negotiable requirement for most chain restaurants,” one said.
However, another business said, “I would strongly oppose this. I think if this is included a lot of support would go away.”
Chamber President Hunter Hall said Monday that these survey results cement the chamber’s position of providing leadership on community issues. The chamber wants to support the expansion of retail options and keep local tax dollars in Newton County. Like many of its members, the chamber would only support alcohol by the drink sales if they were limited to approved zoning areas, Hall said.
Newton County allows retail sales of beer and wine, but not liquor retail sales nor by-the-drink sales of any form of alcohol. In August, the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 32 against having a public referendum on alcohol by the drink on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Commissioners said at the time that they had insufficient information about the potential effects of an alcohol ordinance change to make a decision, and that they wanted to hold public hearings before deciding on whether to have a referendum.
The chamber is attempting to recruit retail stores, something that very few communities do. Retail organizations, unlike industries, are not typically pursued by communities, but usually locate in areas that simply have a certain number of rooftops and a certain level of per capita and disposable income.
Economic Development Director Shannon Davis said Monday that retail stores want to locate in shopping centers with other stores, and restaurants are an important element.
“In your major retail hubs, you need restaurants so that customers can shop and eat. Stores don’t want shoppers leaving for dinner,” Davis said.