Photo by Frank Couch
Sunday alcohol sales 2
Joe Rueschenberg, owner of The Beverage Place in Inverness Plaza and the Pink Package Store at the Jefferson-Shelby County line on U.S. 280, said his businesses plan to open on Sundays if voters approve alcohol sales on Sundays.
The Beverage Place has been closed every Sunday since Joe and J.J. Rueschenberg bought the package store in Inverness Plaza 18 years ago, but after March 1, that could change.
On March 1, Shelby County voters will be able to vote for or against Sunday alcohol sales on their primary election ballot.
“I think it [Sunday sales] will definitely have a moderate impact if not a large one, and if not for us, even for the restaurants that are not allowed to sell on Sundays now,” said Joe Rueschenberg, who also owns The Pink Package Store on U.S. 280.
When Shelby County legislators chose to place Sunday alcohol sales on the primary ballot, they were responding to ongoing requests from cities that saw the lack of sales as a detriment, state Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, said.
“As long as I’ve been there, the cities and the county have just beaten the legislative delegation to death to try and get Sunday sales because they realized they’re losing some revenue they were missing,” Hill said.
Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program and Shelby County resident, said putting Sunday sales on the ballot is another step in the easement of alcohol sale restrictions.
“What’s happening is you’re seeing the consistent removal of all the restrictions on alcohol, which by the way is a mind-altering and addictive drug,” Godfrey said. “So the more you remove the restrictions, the more society pays for the alcohol-related problems.”
Restaurants in Shelby County were able to obtain a club license to sell alcohol on Sundays until around six years ago when legislation took away club licenses. Restaurants that already had club licenses were grandfathered in, but Hill said issues with new businesses started arising.
“That seemed like a pretty good compromise in the beginning, and then we realized we weren’t getting any new restaurants in Shelby County … because now, they not only had to compete with Jefferson County for Sunday sales, but they no longer could have a club license,” Hill said.
This competition from within the county and across county lines pushed legislators to pursue Sunday sales. Wade Crawford, director of marketing for Quality Restaurant Concepts, said for restaurants with club licenses, this law would only simplify Sunday sales by eliminating the need for club memberships or special records.
The Applebee’s in Chelsea, which is owned by Quality Restaurant Concepts, has had a club license since it opened. Crawford said even though they can sell alcohol on Sundays, conservative values in the county and throughout the Southeast mean not many people purchase it.
“We don’t do a whole lot of alcohol sales even if we have it,” he said. “We’re just very conservative down here.”
Sunday sales would likely have a greater impact for grocery and package stores, Crawford said. At his two stores, Rueschenberg said people who are not from Shelby County frequently stop by on Sundays.
“They’re pulling on the door and they’re not really from around here, and they don’t understand why we’re not open on Sunday,” he said.
Beer and wine distributors from Shelby County would benefit from another day to sell, and they would see more sales from people passing through town, Rueschenberg said. A lot of people travel on Sundays, and he believes the county could benefit from their business.
“I think that it would be beneficial for any tourism that is within the community,” he said. “It may help conventions that they may want to hold at the Pelham Civic Center or wherever.”
Godfrey said he does not see Sunday sales as an economic boost. Arguments that say alcohol sales will improve the economy are just a ruse, Godfrey said. He believes alcohol-related issues could actually increase and end up costing the county more.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study in January on the cost of excessive drinking. That cost was $249 billion for the United States in 2010 and included the cost of productivity loss, early mortality, health care costs, crime and car crashes.
“We’re having huge problems, and those figures with the CDC include lost time at work, mortality issues, incarceration and trial situations,” Godfrey said. “All these different things are included in that cost, and that’s probably a conservative cost. … Oftentimes it’s people who don’t drink who have to pay the price.”
Quality Restaurant Concepts has opened restaurants in dry and wet areas, and their decisions related to alcohol typically reflect the community where they are moving, Crawford said. But for people who want to drink or purchase alcohol on Sunday, Crawford said they will just cross county lines.
“I think it’s a ‘duh,’” Crawford said. “It’s just something we need to be doing. People are obviously leaving Shelby County on Sundays if they want to drink, and the county has been missing on those Sunday alcohol taxes for forever.”
The fate of Sunday sales is now up to Shelby County voters, Hill said, and if people vote “no,” the delegation will let that stand.
“The delegation has pretty much said that if it doesn’t pass, we’re not coming back next year with it,” Hill said. “One of these days, another delegation may do it, but this is one shot.”