Landrum approves alcohol referendum

Published 10:49 am Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Blue Ridge Baptist Pastor Joey Gibson addresses council members regarding a proposed referendum to allow Sunday alcohol sales in Landrum restaurants.

In a five to one decision April 12, Landrum councilmembers approved giving residents the opportunity to vote for or against Sunday alcohol sales in restaurants.

The referendum will be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. During that election, voters will also select candidates for three opening council seats.

Prior to the council’s decision, five citizens spoke during a public hearing.

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Barbara Britt, owner of el Chile Rojo and Twigs, spoke in favor of Sunday alcohol sales in Landrum. She said with the economy spiraling over the past few years, business has already been slow in Landrum.

Britt said not being able to sell alcohol on Sunday limits her customer base further, especially when out-of-town visitors expect to be able to enjoy a beer or margarita with lunch or dinner.

“In the past I’ve had numerous customers come in and often they wouldn’t be from here so we’ve had to turn them down when they tried to order a drink. They politely get up and leave,” she said. “I’m just sick and tired of our money going to North Carolina.”

Joey Gibson, pastor of Blue Ridge Baptist Church, stood up against the potential for a referendum.

“I understand times are hard economically and that businesses in Landrum aren’t doing so well,” Gibson said. “But there’s one business in Landrum that is doing well and that’s the mortuary. Ask my friend at the mortuary and he’ll tell you most of the deaths that come through his doors are alcohol related.”

Gibson said he would not feel right if he did not say anything and then see one of his children later killed by a drunk driver.

Melanie Jennings currently serves as president of the Landrum Business Association. Jennings said the possibility of lifting the Sunday alcohol restriction would be beneficial for the community for multiple reasons – economics and ethics.

“I personally can tell you I won’t be drinking on Sunday, but that doesn’t mean my friend who is a Seventh-day Adventists might not want a drink at dinner on a Sunday,” Jennings said. “We’re limiting the rights of people because of what we believe and I think that is wrong.”

Southside Smokehouse owner Robby McClure spoke to the council as well.

“I’m not even completely sure I’d sell it myself but having the ability to would give us a chance to be competitive with Polk County,” McClure said. “You should go to Sidestreet on Sunday – you can’t get in the door.”

Patty Otto said the need for the referendum comes down to economics.

Otto employs 34 people at The Hare and Hound, 14 of which live in Landrum.

“Keeping the money here, keeping the stores filled is crucial,” Otto said. “(Landrum) is a wonderful little destination spot but there has to be something for them to stop for here. Sunday (alcohol sales) is actually an important thing for this town and this town’s future.”

Councilmembers Jan Horton, Don Smith, Billy Inman, Jon Matheis and Joyce Whitesides all voted yes.

The lone decenter in the vote, councilman Randy Wohnig, said he felt restaurant owners chose to leave the work to the council. He said this same issue was the topic of discussion two years ago when he felt only a half-hearted effort was made to gain signatures for a petition to add the referendum on a ballot.

Mayor Robert Briggs however said a petition would remove town leadership from the process, thereby preventing them from having any control over wording of the referendum. By law, the exact wording of any petition requesting a referendum would be the wording used if voters passed a change to the law.

Briggs abstained from voting because his wife owns a restaurant in Landrum.