Booming broadening booze

By Layron Livingston - bio - email

Posted by Ellen Krafve - email

RUSK, TX (KLTV) - Another round for the East Texas house. It's a growing trend - more and more East Texans are pushing to turn their dry communities, cities, and counties, wet.

The latest to add its name to the hat is the Rusk Citizens for Economic Growth, and its members are now asking for the the city to allow the sale of mixed drinks in restaurants and the sale of beer and wine for off site consumption.

Here is a look at what is driving the movement.

In Longview, they say the alcohol business is booming.

"Sales are doing great," exclaimed Dana Lesvette with Don's food stores. "They're up about 25 percent over this time last year."

In Rusk, there's no business at all.

"It's going to be interesting to see whether or not it passes," said Connie Quine with the Cherokee County voter registration office.

Quine said she just finished verifying 326 signatures that represent residents who want to take the issue to the May ballot.

Similar petitions have popped up over the past few months in Rains and Van Zandt Counties and parts of Smith and Henderson. Even drawing the lines down to the precinct, in other places, voters have already opted to go wet, like in Angelina County. In Tyler and Longview, alcohol can be sold only in restaurants and bars. Stores may sell alcohol in Malakoff and Coffee City. Is it a coincidence? Tom Mullins with the Tyler Economic Council spoke with us from the phone.

"The law was amended a few years ago by the Texas legislature to make it easier to have elections," explained Mullins.

He said more people are moving into East Texas, and if they want alcohol, they'll go where they can to buy it, boosting that particular economy.

"Some people will just say it's time that we capture that retail dollar and the taxes that go along with it," said Mullins.

"The only people that really make money are the people who are selling it," said Lee Welch, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Rusk.

Welch and Jim Goforth are with the Citizens Against Legalized Liquor. They say the money argument just doesn't hold water.

"These outside sources have been coming in and finding a few people who want to see it happen in their community," said Goforth.

"We'd just like to keep our town like it is," said Welch.

It could soon be in the hands of the voters. Until then, the debate continues.

Cherokee County officials said the petition is expected to be presented to the Cherokee County Commissioners Court next month. If an election is called, only the folks inside the Rusk city limits will get to vote on the issue in May.