Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

Archive for May 2009

The Disappearing Dry Lands

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Every now and again, something takes place that squarely falls under the heading “Things you were sure you’d never live to see.”

Such an event took place last weekend in the East Texas county I call home (for the second time). For decades, anyone in Van Zandt County who wanted to buy beer or a couple of bottles of wine had to travel at least 20 to 30 miles westward to find the nearest “wet” town.

Not anymore.

By a rather resounding margin of 188 votes, citizens of Wills Point, Texas, made local history by being the first place in the county to pass a local option election to allow beer and wine sales for off-premise consumption.

There had been only two local option elections inside the county before that, both in the neighboring town of Edgewood and both rejected by a majority of voters. A petition drive four years ago in another Van Zandt town, Van, never made it off the ground.

So why Wills Point and why now? Well, to put it bluntly, the proponents of alcohol sales in this latest election had something on their side the previous hopefuls did not: A truly ragged economic scene.

The moral argument about allowing local alcohol sales is unmovable. In other words, those who believe sipping adult beverages is wrong will never have their minds sway and those who believe it is not wrong will stand their ground as firmly. The only real debate in a wet/dry election is an economic one.

That said, it seems it was easier for cities and towns in Texas to say “No, thanks,” to local alcoholic beverage sales in years past, when the economic picture was considerably brighter or at least on stable ground. It has been a different playing field completely in the past 12 months. Suddenly, an extra $20,000 or more per year in the town’s general fund from alcohol sales tax revenue looks absolutely lovely.

Apparently, a lot more cities and communities in Texas are feeling this way. Of 38 total alcohol sales propositions on May 9 ballots statewide, 31 passed and that included a number of cities going wet for the first time. In the state’s current fiscal year that began in September 2008, there have been 66 alcohol sales proposition passages, only 15 failures.

The alcohol deserts that used to cut wide swaths throughout parts of Texas are quickly disappearing. Cities of all sizes are finally getting warm to the notion of keeping local money local, even if not everyone in town is keen on seeing neon Budweiser signs in the corner convenience store.

Expect the “wetlands” movement in Texas to grow even more in the coming 12-24 months. Wills Point is the first community in Van Zandt County to say goodbye to its dry days, but it will not be the only one.

Legalized alcohol sales alone will not become a magic wand powerful enough to completely reverse a city’s economic fortunes. It could, however, be the factor that keeps property owners from facing another tax rate increase or that keeps water and sewer rates from going up considerably.

It could also be the factor that keeps some stores open for business (and in the areas that allow it in restaurants, keep those businesses going), keeping people employed and with money to spend. The businesses it preserves could, in turn, create a scene that attracts new stores and businesses, even ones that have nothing to do with selling beer and wine.

For Wills Point, that would be a stark change of direction compared to the last 20-plus years. If in the next several months after beer and wine sales begin, the business growth and prosperity in Wills Point are unmistakable, I can see the other major towns in the county gearing up for their own local option election — and sooner than later.


Written by terrybritt

May 17, 2009 at 11:41 pm

10-year Time Warp?

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It is kind of neat to see the Dreamcast – perhaps the greatest example of a product lifespan cut too short among video game consoles – back on the market to some extent. But unless you simply must have one never soiled by previous owner hands, you can find them at many classic gaming resellers like Game Xchange or Movie Trading Company for $29-$49, which will also give you a bit of financial room to try to snag a copy of Soul Caliber or Virtua Tennis.

Written by terrybritt

May 3, 2009 at 11:41 pm

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