Last November, voters in East Ridge overwhelmingly approved a referendum that would allow sales of liquor in package stores in our city.
It was a move whose time had come. As the city approaches the 100th anniversary of its founding, residents would now be able to go up the street to a conveniently located liquor store and purchase their favorite spirit. The sales tax on those purchases would go into city coffers providing another revenue stream.
Win, win, right? One would certainly think so.
However, city leaders, as is their custom, wanted East Ridge to have the biggest, most beautiful, and grandest liquor stores in all the land. You know, something we can all be proud of. Stores that would draw imbibers from all over the Southeast just to behold the majesty of what Bacchus has wrought.
Following the lead of the City Manager, who after all, oversaw the implementation and regulation of liquor stores in Sparta, Tenn. (pop. 5,000), the City Attorney went to work, crafting a 17-page ordinance governing everything liquor. In short order, the City Council adopted the legislation with minor amendments.
Here’s what you get. Only two liquor stores will be allowed to operate within the city. Both must have frontage on Ringgold Road. Both must be new construction. One must be located between the tunnels and Belvoir Avenue. One must be located between South Moore and Spring Creek Road.
The one on the West end of town must have a minimum of 4,500-square-feet of retail space. The one on the East end must have a minimum of 7,000-square feet of retail space. Neither liquor store may share a property line with a church or school.
Who will be allowed to open a liquor store? That will be determined by a lottery to be conducted during a City Council meeting.
Why all the rules? To spur economic growth in our fair city away from the Jordan Crossing area and the interstate … you know, where all the commerce is currently.
A noble effort, one might say. However, this writer doesn’t see it working out so well. What does work? The free market works well most of the time, doesn’t it?
With the city requiring big, new construction, any businessman worth his/her salt would work the numbers. I don’t know exactly how much a 4,500-square-foot store would cost on the West end. Let’s start at $2 million. How much would it cost to stock a 4,500-square-foot showroom. I’m told roughly $500,000. Fixtures, furniture, point of sale system, staff, security, inspection fee of five percent on inventory on a monthly basis … well, you get the point. It’s gonna cost a bundle.
I’m told on good authority the profit margin on the sale of liquor is about 14 percent. So, it makes sense to me that the price of a bottle of booze in a west end East Ridge store – to cover costs and make a profit – would be significantly more than a bottle of booze a few blocks away in Brainerd.
Price rules most everything in East Ridge. There’s a reason for that, as the median household income here ain’t exactly up to Signal Mountain standards, or for that matter North Georgia.
I would venture to guess that a 7,000-square-foot palace near Spring Creek Road might stand a better chance of surviving, as it is closer to the interstate and its motels and thriving businesses. However, it won’t set the woods on fire as a huge moneymaker.
As the liquor store ordinance stands, it will do no favors to the residents of East Ridge, the city or captains of commerce. It will not promote what its intended for; the revitalization of the West end.
How about the City Council reconsider what it has done. After all, the vote to pass the ordinance was 3-2 with teetotaler Jacky Cagle joining Councilwoman Esther Helton opposing the Draconian document.
Get rid of the restrictions on where liquor stores can set up shop. Get rid of the minimum square footage and new construction requirements. Give the little guy, the small, local business owners that have been left to feed on the crumbs of this economic boon the city is experiencing a seat at the table.
Let go of the lottery idea. I’m telling you, no matter whose name gets drawn out of the hat, this city will erupt with the cries of corruption that “the fix was in.”
In short, let the market decide where a liquor store can operate and how many East Ridge can accommodate. I encourage City Hall to get out of the way and let’s see what you get.