By Ken Ripley | email@example.com
SPRING HOPE — Town residents who voted early last week discovered they had one more decision to make than the public knew — a local referendum on whether to allow liquor by the drink.
Spring Hope voters are instructed to vote for or against a measure “To permit the sale of mixed beverages in hotels, restaurants, private clubs, community theatres and (the) convention center.”
The Spring Hope Board of Commissioners unanimously authorized the resolution during its August meeting at Town Manager Jae Kim’s recommendation, according to meeting minutes. The decision wasn’t reported in news accounts of the meeting and the town has since taken no action to publicize or promote the referendum.
Kim said Thursday he had proposed allowing the sale of mixed drinks as an “economic driver.” Even though the referendum would potentially affect only one current local restaurant, Michael’s Showside Grill, Kim said having the ability to sell mixed drinks is financially attractive to prospective restaurants and other hospitality businesses, improving both the town’s tax base and quality of life.
Kim also said he thought it would be easier to hold the referendum now before real demand surfaces and added pragmatically that it was less expensive for the town to hold its referendum during a general election already scheduled.
The Spring Hope Area Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken an official position on the referendum in the short time since it was introduced, but individual chamber leaders have been supportive.
“It would certainly open up more possibilities for the town, especially dining,” said former chamber president Allen Barbee, who noted he’d heard no discussion of the referendum but was supportive of the idea.
Currently, Nash County doesn’t allow bars and restaurants in unincorporated areas to serve liquor. The county sells packaged liquor in Alcoholic Beverage Control Board stores and allows the private sale of wine and beer.
The only municipalities in Nash County that currently allow liquor by the drink are Rocky Mount and Nashville, which held successful referendums years ago and reaped economic benefits as a result. Southern Nash County towns, including Spring Hope, haven’t previously raised the issue.
The North Carolina legislature, after years of controversy from religious groups and advocacy by the hospitality industry, voted narrowly to allow local referendums on liquor by the drink in 1979, initially focused on restaurants and private clubs.
One of the legislators who led the successful effort to allow liquor by the drink was the late Allen Barbee of Spring Hope, then a state representative in House Speaker Jimmy Green’s inner circle.
Changing cultural attitudes and generally positive benefits of allowing the sale of mixed drinks have tended to diminish the controversy in local liquor by the drink referendums in recent years.