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Liquor in Unicoi: Will the little town's 2 new stores boost the local economy?

November 11th, 2013 11:03 am by Brad Hicks

Liquor in Unicoi: Will the little town's 2 new stores boost the local economy?


UNICOI — Almost a year to the day that a referendum allowing retail liquor stores to set up shop inside the town of Unicoi passed by a majority vote, the town has seen its second and final package store open its doors. 


A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday for Maple Grove Wine & Liquor, the second retail package store to open within the past two months and, per the town’s retail liquor stores ordinance, the last such business that can set up within the town. 


The referendum to allow package stores passed in the Nov. 6, 2012, general election with 845 votes in favor of its passage against 695 voting for its rejection. In January, the Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen approved the final reading of an ordinance to permit the establishment of retail liquor stores. 


Mayor Johnny Lynch said that during the process to develop the ordinance, town officials discussed the number of retail liquor stores that should be allowed to operate within the town at a given time. Initially, the possibility of allowing only one active store was discussed, but Lynch said officials were apprehensive to do this as they did not want to be accused of favoring the one store granted the certificate of compliance. Lynch also said officials did not want to allow three or more stores within the town. 


In late May, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to approve granting Stacey Collins, owner of Unicoi Wine & Spirits, and Jerry Vance, owner of Maple Grove Wine & Liquor, their certificates of compliance. Unicoi Wine & Spirits opened in early September. 


Jonathan Hall, manager of Maple Grove Wine & Liquor, which actually opened to customers on Nov. 4, said that although the town’s two package stores are separated by less than three miles in a town with around 3,500 residents, he feels there is a market for both stores within Unicoi. 


“I think they will both thrive,” he said. 


Hall said he believes this because of the “through-the-roof” anticipation members of the community had for Maple Grove’s opening, and the response the store has seen since its opening. 


“We’ve had a lot of people come in who have bragged about the store and are happy that it’s here,” Hall said.


Hall said customers have commented on the convenience the store provides, with these customers opting to utilize the Unicoi store rather than traveling to Johnson City. He also said it should provide a boost to the local economy. 


“The people down on the liquor stores being here are ridiculous if they would stop to consider the revenue it brings in,” Hall said. 


Dave Edwards Jr., manager of Unicoi Wine & Spirits, said business has remained strong since the store opened nearly two months ago. He said the store continues to see not only local customers, but patrons from North Carolina and other states. Like Hall, Edwards said some have said the store provides a convenience and prevents trips to Johnson CIty.


“We’ve been very pleased with our customers,” Edwards said. “Some have thanked us for opening and are appreciative.”


And it’s not only the stores’ owners who reap the rewards of the package stores’ success. Three entities within Unicoi County benefit from the sales tax revenue generated by the sale of spirits. 


The town benefits as soon as the distribution truck unloads items at either of the liquor stores. Lynch said the distributors must send the town a check for 5 percent of the wholesale price of the items delivered. 


“As soon as the truck unloads, they go back and write us a check,” Lynch said. 


The town has not enacted a property tax but operates off of sales tax revenue generated within its limits. Whenever an item is sold in either of the package stores, the town receives a portion of the sales tax revenue generated. Lynch said 50 percent of the sales tax revenue taken in by the town is then dispersed to the Unicoi County School System. 


“So it benefits the town and it benefits the county and it benefits the school system,” Lynch said. 


Unicoi Town Recorder Larry Rea said when the town was preparing its 2013-14 fiscal year budget, it did not budget wholesale alcohol tax revenue or sales tax revenue from the retail liquor stores, as town officials were unsure what to expect and when the stores may be open. 


In September, the town collected $5,358.93 from the wholesale alcohol tax. This figure was likely due to the initial stocking of Unicoi Wine & Spirits, Rea said. In October, the town collected $2,503.80 from the tax. The town has not yet received any tax in November as it is too early in the month for the revenue to be received, Rea said. 


Rea said it may be too early to estimate what the normal revenues would be. He said funding received from the wholesale alcohol tax will be monitored throughout the remainder of the fiscal year, which will give the town a better idea of the revenues that can be expected in the 2014-15 fiscal year. 


“That will give us a fairly good idea on what to count on for the next budget year,” Rea said. 


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