Tourism commission supports Sunday packaged alcohol sales

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Lebanon City Council to revisit Sunday sales ordinance

By Stevie L. Daugherty

Grocery, liquor and convenience stores in Nelson County could be selling packaged liquor on Sundays by this summer, and, according to some local residents, Marion County needs to follow suit or the local economy could be at stake.

The Bardstown City Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance recently allowing Sunday alcohol sales in all three store types, according to an article published in The Kentucky Standard. Package stores will be allowed to sell their product from 1 p.m. to midnight on Sundays, according to Bardstown's ordinance.

Donnie Miles, owner of Loretto Foodland, said he is very concerned about how Bardstown's ordinance could negatively affect his grocery business. According to Miles, Sunday has become the No. 1 grocery shopping day and he would hate to see his customers make Bardstown their No. 1 stop.

"Times have changed. Sunday is the recreation day anymore," he said. "People are going to travel to Bardstown to get their beer and when they purchase their beer they will purchase it for the whole week. They will probably pick up other items, too. That will become a routine."

Miles has a petition at his store in support of Sunday packaged alcohol sales, as do several other business owners throughout the county. Right now, he probably has 300 or more names on it, but he hasn't really "pushed it yet," he said.

Aside from believing the law banning the sale of alcohol on Sundays is old and needs to be changed, he also believes it's unfair and that other businesses have been given special treatment in regards to alcohol sales.

For instance, in 2006, the Marion County Fiscal Court voted in favor of an ordinance to allow distillers in the county located in wet areas to sell alcohol in gift shops.

"My business means as much to me as Maker's Mark means to Mr. Samuels," Miles said. "As an individual, this will affect me in my pocket, where it hurts. If you can change a law for big business you can change the law for the little man."

Lebanon attorney Greg Simms said he believes there are both legal reasons and common sense reasons why prohibiting Sunday sales is wrong and, in fact, unconstitutional.

"One, it's arbitrary to choose Sunday as a day of rest and you can't make laws that are arbitrary or capricious," he said. "Two, these laws are vestiges of archaic blue laws that remain on our books waiting to be enforced. I believe that if somebody were to be charged with a violation of this that the laws prohibiting Sunday sales would easily be overturned."

However, the common sense argument is even more persuasive, according to Simms. With the economy in such poor condition, it's imperative that Marion County keeps every dollar possible within county lines, Simms said.

"Marion County's time to act is now," he said. "Bardstown is a tourism competitor. This will be just one more legitimate factor that will weigh on tourists minds when they are deciding where to spend their tourism dollars. Economically, it's the only option that makes sense."

According to Simms, it's not fair to prohibit a business from selling a legal product seven days a week. And prohibiting Sunday sales encourages bootlegging, he said. It's also not fair that Lebanon restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol on Sundays, but Lebanon businesses are not, according to Simms.

In December of last year, the Lebanon City Council voted 4-2 to approve Sunday alcohol sales at local restaurants. Council members Denise Fogle, Dennis George, Bill Pickerill and Darin Spalding voted in favor of the ordinance. Council members Elizabeth Ann Osbourne and Jim Richardson voted against it. Proponents of the ordinance argued that Sunday sales would be a benefit to the city and could give restaurants a boost.

Rev. Darrin Gillespie, the pastor of Lebanon United Methodist Church, hasn't seen proof of that so far.

"I don't think we've seen any boon to our economy or tourism because of the restaurant sales," he said. "I don't think we'll have that with packaged sales on Sunday either."

According to Jim McMurtry, owner of Big Jim's Bar & Grill in Lebanon, it's still too early to tell how much of an impact Sunday sales will have on his business, but he does believe it has drawn more people to his restaurant.

"I'm seeing faces that I wouldn't normally see for sure," he said.

Being able to sell alcohol on Sundays will be even more beneficial during the summer months, McMurtry said.

Rev. Gillespie doesn't see Sunday alcohol sales as a benefit at all. He believes the cons outweigh the pros. Not only does it infringe on Sunday, the Lord's Day, but it also enables more people to drink and drive, he said.

"Packaged sales are just another way that's going to happen," Gillespie said. "At least now, there is one day a week folks aren't able to go in on the spur of the moment and grab a 12-pack or a case of beer and knock those back and then be on our roads."

That is the primary concern for Mimi Crum, president of the Marion County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. While MADD doesn't take a position on Sunday alcohol sales, the organization and its members do advocate for laws and ordinances that create uniformity across the state regarding limits on when alcohol can be sold (especially bar closing times) so that people are not encouraged to travel in order to "get one more drink," Crum said. 

According to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, alcohol-related crashes increased slightly in Marion County in 2008 (40 in 2008, 38 in 2007) but the figures have improved greatly since 2000, when there were 69 alcohol-related crashes.

"We sure don't want to be on an upswing," Crum said. "We don't want those numbers creeping back up."

In regards to the argument that banning alcohol sales on Sunday is unconstitutional - that is for the courts to decide, both Crum and Rev. Gillespie agree.

And, just because Bardstown will soon be selling packaged alcohol on Sundays is not a good reason for Marion County to do the same, Gillespie said.

"Coming from my angle - a Christian angle - I think the Lord can take care of his people and we don't need to get into the habit, as a county, of doing everything because someone else around us is doing it," Gillespie said.

Tourism supports packaged alcohol sales

The Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission unanimously voted to support Sunday packaged alcohol sales during its monthly meeting Monday.

According to Chris Hamilton, tourism director, Lebanon attorney Greg Simms asked for the topic to be put on the tourism's agenda and for the commission's support or endorsement of Sunday packaged alcohol sales. The Bardstown City Council recently passed the first reading of an ordinance allowing Sunday packaged alcohol sales.

Hamilton told the commission that, while it doesn't generate additional hotel or motel tax revenue, having Sunday packaged alcohol sales would be another feature Lebanon could promote.

"I can assure you, Bardstown will be promoting it heavily," he said.

One event Sunday alcohol sales could impact is Jets Over Kentucky, Hamilton said.

"Those people drink a lot," he said. "People like that will want to buy packaged liquor on Sunday."

Hamilton said he feared that if Lebanon did not follow suit with Bardstown and pass Sunday packaged alcohol sales it could lose business during the Jets Over Kentucky event.

"I wouldn't want to see us lose Jets Over Kentucky over something this trivial," Jim Richardson, Lebanon Tourist and Convention Commission Vice Chairman said.

Hamilton said that the move would be a positive one for local tourism and that the tourism commission's support could help make it happen.

"We got all to gain and nothing to lose," Commissioner Eddie Lee said.