Elizabethton liquor store regulations discussed at workshop

John Thompson • Dec 5, 2012 at 10:28 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Now that the voters of Elizabethton have voted to allow liquor stores to operate within the city, the members of the City Council and city staff have been deliberating on what sort of regulations should be passed on governing the liquor stores.

The council held a workshop session Wednesday to discuss the matter and to hear from business people who are interested in operating liquor stores in the city. The council chambers were about a quarter filled with spectators.

New council member Bob Cable spoke for everyone in the city government when he said “We have a golden opportunity for some much-needed revenue. We need to be very careful.”

Because it was a workshop, no decisions could be reached Wednesday, but each council member had the opportunity to express their concerns and best solutions. One of the biggest questions was whether to limit the number of stores or to open the city up to the free marketplace.

Mayor Curt Alexander said he was originally in favor of allowing the free enterprise system to work, allowing anyone with the money and ability to open a store. He said that since he has researched the matter further, he found that the way liquor stores are regulated in the state precludes a totally free market.

Alexander said there are only a limited number of distributors the stores are allowed to use. In addition, the state requires payment for shipments within 10 days. He said the only way for a store to get a discount on pricing is to buy in large volumes. All of these reasons mean there is not a free marketplace.

City Manager Fred Edens said there would be several additional questions to answer if the council chose to limit the number of stores. These included how many would be authorized, how would the choice be made on who would get the stores and location for the stores.

Several council members felt there would not be many potential store owners because of the difficult financial requirements on the state’s application for a liquor license.

Several people said it would take at least a half-million-dollar investment to get started in the liquor business. In addition, there would be the city’s requirement that the applicants pass a background check similar to the one required to open a beer store. That would eliminate anyone with a criminal record..

There is also severe limitations on location. The Planning Commission has already passed a change to the zoning regulation that would allow liquor stores only in the arterial business district. Added to that is the same distance requirements on beer stores that prevents them from doing business less than 100 feet from a school or church.

The council did get into deeper details during the workshop. Some members preferred three stores, while other thought four would be best. Nancy Alsup thought the store ownerships should be limited to city residents and so informed Billy Chappell, the businessman who started the referendum to get the liquor stores. Although Chappell is the largest property owner in the city, he is not a resident of the city.

Although the council could not vote, there was a consensus to limit the number of stores and to use the state’s financial requirements for ownership.

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