Halcyon Days

Columns and reflections by Terry Britt

Time to Let Go of Myths About Alcoholic Beverage Sales

with 2 comments

Early voting starts next week for local city and school district elections in Texas. For my former city of residence, Canton, and nearby cities Van and Grand Saline, this includes a local option election on legalizing alcoholic beverage sales in those towns, all currently “dry.”

As a veteran journalist, if there is something I’ve learned about local option elections, it is that you have three groups of voters: those who are against alcoholic beverage sales for moral or religious reasons, those who support alcoholic beverage sales being allowed, and those who really don’t know whether it is a good idea or a bad idea.

It’s the last of those groups that often determine the outcome of the election, and it’s the group for which this opinion essay is intended. Any voter in the other two groups is not going to be swayed to the other side.

That said, here is my statement for the undecided in Van Zandt County’s three cities with this big decision on May 10: There is no logical reason for any of those cities to remain “dry” – not one.

There are, however, a lot of mythological reasons for why they have continued to keep out alcoholic beverage sales to this point, and several of those reasons combine to formulate the central argument for anti-alcohol sales groups. These include the following:

  1. Local alcoholic beverage sales are a detriment to our children/families: This is an example of a false causation argument. It tries to directly tie local availability of beer, wine and liquor to physical and emotional abuse in homes. Alcoholic beverage abuse certainly is a factor in many cases where physical and emotional abuse of children and/or a spouse are present. It is not, however, a given fact that anyone who consumes alcohol is more likely to become abusive in personality or behavior. I’ve personally known many outstanding, successful men and women whose parents always kept a fully stocked liquor cabinet. I’ve also known cases of physical and emotional abuse of children where there was not a drop of alcoholic beverages in the household at any time – and I was one such case.
  2. We don’t want our local stores and restaurants promoting and selling a dangerous, addictive product: This is hypocrisy on two levels. First, it makes the assumption that most, if not all, people in a community are completely incapable of making reasonable decisions when it comes to purchasing and consuming alcoholic beverages, and therefore we all need the absence of availability to keep us safe. The truth is that people who don’t want to drink alcoholic beverages are not going to start simply because Walmart has a special on 12-packs of Miller Lite. Likewise, those who do are not going to go crazy with consumption habits simply because they can buy it without leaving town. Second (and worse), this argument turns a blind eye to the fact that local stores are selling tons of dangerous, addictive products every day. Still, you never see picket signs or quotes in newspaper articles from alcoholic beverage opponents about all the tobacco products, over-the-counter medications, and junk food that fly off the local shelves.
  3. We will have more drunk drivers, alcohol-related traffic accidents and we’ll need more police officers if we allow alcoholic beverage sales: I have heard this specific fear expressed constantly by some people when faced with a local option election. The truly fascinating thing, though, is I’ve never heard it from an actual police officer or state trooper – and that is because there has been no published study supporting the notion. As one area police chief told me a few years ago, it is just the opposite: The farther someone has to drive to have a drink, the more likely that person may drive back while intoxicated. The same police chief also said, “If a person can buy beer locally, you’re talking about a five-minute trip home from the store. If that person has to drive 30-40 minutes each way to buy beer, the temptation to pop open one on the way back is much greater.”
  4. Alcoholic beverage sales will do nothing positive for our community: Well, except giving your community the sales tax revenue that has been going for decades to places like Dallas, Kaufman, Terrell, and Tyler. I lived in Canton for a total of 12 years and have been to Van and Grand Saline countless times to cover public meetings and events during my career in newspaper journalism. It does not require a Ph.D. in Physics to know when you have turned off a state highway or FM road onto a local street in any of those cities. Alcoholic beverage sales are not going to generate enough revenue to renovate every street, water line, or sewer line in Canton, Grand Saline, and Van. It may, however, allow the respective city councils to start more repair projects instead of having to say “maybe next year.” Still, if you need to be further convinced that something like restaurants with bars can actually be good for a community, consider the Applebee’s that opened in Canton late in 2012. All it has done since is help rejuvenate business in a shopping center that had been in decline for more than a decade. About 12 miles east on Highway 64, you have the town of Ben Wheeler, where the late Brooks Gremmels and his Ben Wheeler Development Corporation literally resurrected what had been almost a ghost town. Part of that redevelopment plan included two venues for food, live music and, yes, alcoholic beverages. I haven’t heard anyone wishing Ben Wheeler was back the way it was.
  5. (and the most ludicrous argument of all) Our city has moral standards that need to be upheld: In the earlier years of my journalism career, I developed 35mm film rolls that were not as thin and flimsy as this statement. Moral standards of a community have nothing to do what beverages are available in a store or at a restaurant. “Dry” cities and counties are not automatically of higher moral character than “wet” areas. Being “dry” doesn’t guarantee a lower crime rate, better schools or cleaner streets. There is, however, one thing I can tell you “dry” cities and counties definitely are: Relics of one of the most embarrassing chapters in American history – Prohibition, when the federal government decided no one in the United States should be able to enjoy anything that had been fermented and poured into a glass. You might remember how well that went; to this day, it is the only instance in the U.S. Constitution where one amendment has been repealed by another amendment. What is not as well remembered is that, in repealing Prohibition, the federal government essentially left it up to individual states to determine the legality of alcoholic beverages, and many states, Texas included, subsequently left the decision with individual municipalities and counties. That is how “dry” and “wet” areas came into being, but it seems only in the “dry” areas that the designation is even considered necessary for brandishing a sense of local merit. The reality is simple: Great cities are great cities for reasons other than what is, or isn’t, sold in the beverage aisles.

Here is another bit of reality the anti-alcohol faction would rather you not know: The vast majority of people who consume alcoholic beverages, myself included, do so responsibly and in moderation. And, contrary to some of the laughable propaganda that has been passed around for years, we really aren’t looking to turn Canton, Van, and Grand Saline into dens of iniquity. If you think that statement is a little dramatic, let me take you back to a feature story I wrote for the Van Zandt News in 2008 looking at the recent opening of licensed Texas Wineries in the county. In that article, the owners of Savannah Winery and Bistro in Canton related the story of how, as they prepared to open in late 2006, someone had felt such religious conviction against the presence of a wine merchant as to borrow from Martin Luther and nail a letter of protest to the front door of the winery – although that conviction apparently was not strong enough to warrant signing the letter.

More than seven years later, Savannah Winery and Bistro is still going strong, and the city of Canton has not gone to hell in a handbasket. I sincerely doubt it will after May 10, 2014, either, if Walmart and Brookshire’s are allowed to start stocking beer and wine, and if a bunch of full bar-endowed new restaurants open.

But that is your upcoming choice in Canton, Grand Saline and Van – and, at the very least, you are finally getting a choice.

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Written by terrybritt

April 24, 2014 at 11:32 am

2 Responses

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  1. As a 6 year recovered alcoholic I can say that not selling liquor in a town does not stop anyone with a drinking problem. And it is right that they will more than likely drink on the way home if they have to leave town. But, just for the record, alcohol is taken way to lightly. I sure never expected to become an “alcoholic”, can happen to anyone and you don’t even realize it is!

    CHB

    April 25, 2014 at 11:55 am

    • I agree with you completely; I had my own battle with depression-spurred binge drinking when I started college studies back in the 1980s. Fortunately, some caring friends straightened me out before it turned into a chemical dependency. Alcoholism and alcohol-fueled abuse are issues we must continue to face and try to solve when and where possible. However, for the opponents of alcoholic beverage sales in these towns to argue that locking out their stores and restaurants from selling such beverages will somehow prevent or eliminate the issue is deluded nonsense. That might have worked better in the 1940s when we didn’t have state highways and interstates making towns 50 miles apart a one-hour trip instead of an all-morning or all-evening journey. But today we are talking about three East Texas cities where residents are 10-15 minutes from purchasing. Thank you for your comment, and bless you as you continue to make your life better.

      terrybritt

      April 26, 2014 at 11:21 am


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