Thursday, July 27, 2006

Texas and its screwy liquor laws

Every time a visitor from another state comes to Texas, I invariably find myself having to explain the state's liquor laws to them. This is because people who live outside of Texas ususally find them to be rather bizarre. Unlike in many other states, for example, hard liquor cannot be sold in grocery stores, but rather in special liquor stores. And those liquor stores have to close at 9 pm every day and are not permitted to be open at all on Sundays. Beer and wine can be purchased in supermarkets, but only until midnight (expect for Saturday nights, when sales are extended until 1 am). And there are many parts of the state where no alcohol sales of any kind are permitted; certain cities, counties and other political geographies have chosen to be "dry." In that regard, reading this article in yesterday's Denton Record-Chronicle, which discusses efforts in Denton and other area towns to collect enough signatures to force a vote on allowing alcohol sales, brought back some memories.

Much of Denton is already "wet," as the article notes; in 1977, Denton held a local option election to allow beer and wine sales within the city. The measure passed, but it only applied to land within the city limits at that time. Any property annexed by the city of Denton since 1977 (see the .pdf file accompanying the article) has remained dry. Given Denton's rapid growth over the past several years, this has caused some problems:

In 2001, when (recently-elected Denton Mayor Perry) McNeill first was elected to the City Council, officials from Tom Thumb considered opening a new supermarket at Teasley Lane and Ryan Road, but didn’t because beer and wine sales were prohibited there. But across the street, a convenience store was legally selling beer and wine, McNeill said.

“That doesn’t make sense to have that kind of irregularities inside your city limits,” he said. “From an economic standpoint, we ought to be consistent throughout the city.”

I remember very well that proposed Tom Thumb supermarket, because I was the planner who handled the developer's rezoning application and plat submission. A grocery store at that location made a lot of sense due to the amount of new and planned residential development occurring in that area on the south side of town. However (and, unfortunately, only after the developers successfully rezoned and platted the property), Tom Thumb withdrew from the proposal precisely because the property was located on the "dry" side of Ryan Road and they threfore would not be able to sell beer and wine there. It really was that much of a deal-killer for them; they apparently felt that they couldn't successfully compete with the Kroger further up Teasley Lane which could sell beer and wine.

In recent years, voters in several other cities on the north side of the Dallas - Fort Worth Metroplex have chosen to allow alcohol sales. Lewisville, for example, now allows beer and wine sales; voters approved the measure in early 2005 after several previous failed attempts. Thus, no more having to drive to Flower Mound to buy a six-pack of beer or a bottle of merlot (as I had to do when I lived there in 1999 - 2000).

While issues related to the sale of alcohol seem to be more prevalent in northern Texas than in southern Texas, bizarre liquor laws aren't exclusively confined to the northern portion of the state. Here in Houston, we have our very own "dry" enclave within the city limits: the Houston Heights. If you've ever been to this historic neighborhood, you might have noticed that there are no liquor stores and that none of the convenience stores or grocery stores sell beer or wine. This is because the Heights, as its own municipality, disallowed alcohol sales, and it was absorbed into the City of Houston in 1914 with the provision that that prohibition be maintained.

Supporters of an election to expand alcohol sales to Denton's current city limits, rather than is 1977 boundaries, have until the end of Friday to collect enough signatures to require an election. The proposed election would not only expand the limit of alcohol sales but also do away with Denton's (rather silly) requirement that people join a "private club" before being served mixed drinks in restaurants. Lewisville used to have this rule as well; as such, when I lived up there I kept the venerable Unicard (read this interesting article about it and its inventor) ready in my wallet.

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