Proponents see jobs, revenue

Voters in Marion County will have the opportunity Nov. 2 to cast their ballots for or against a resolution to allow liquor by the drink in eating establishments within the county.

Proponents say the issue is one of economics, not morality.

“It’s not necessarily an issue of drink, it’s the issue of having to have a membership and having to wait 10 days just even to eat,” said Burns Mayor Mary Glenn. “We’re not out there promoting people to get drunk and go up and down the highway; we’re promoting food and bringing people into our communities.”

Glenn said Burns would like to capture some of the U.S. Highway 77 traffic, particularly Kansas State football fans driving to and from games in Manhattan.

“Depending on the time of day when the game is, we could advertise and bring people into town to the Gulch or the Burns Cafe,” she said. “When they’re coming back from the game and they’re tired, sometimes people like to stop and relax a little bit and have a good meal. A lot of folks like to have a glass of wine with their meal.”

The Buffalo Gulch Ranchhouse in Burns does serve liquor, but diners must be club members. A 10-day waiting period is required for club membership, which discourages many travelers who are looking for a nice place to eat that evening, Glenn said.

Carolyn Anderson, owner/operator of the Coneburg Inn in Peabody, said the current law affects her business, too, even though her restaurant has both a “club side” and a “3.2 side” where non-club members may purchase 3.2 beer.

“There are a lot of people who come in and eat and do not want to pay membership,” she said. “I’m sure quite a few of them would like to have a drink.”

“I’m hoping that by the law passing, more people will come in to eat who want to have a drink but don’t want to pay the membership,” she added. “Hopefully it will bring in more business.”

Economic benefits

Bob Sprowls, who with his wife Kathy owned and operated Kingfisher’s Inn at Marion County Lake for 24 years before closing the restaurant earlier this month, said the economic impact of allowing liquor by the drink would be “quite significant.”

“It would probably double the volume of the restaurant, which would probably double the sales tax that the restaurant paid to the state,” he said.

Sprowls said his restaurant was continually hampered by the prohibition on liquor by the drink.

Kingfisher’s Inn was a popular venue for celebrations and special events, and patrons often requested a wine or champagne, Sprowls said.

“It was a constant issue,” he said. “It really hurt on our parties and rehearsal dinners. I’d say over half of our Christmas parties the last few years have gone to the (Marion) Country Club first and then come out to eat simply because we couldn’t offer them drinks.”

Sprowls said the liquor-by-the-drink issue has also hampered their ability to sell the restaurant.

“The first month we had it for sale, we had probably seven interested parties, but as soon as they found out Marion was a dry county, they weren’t interested anymore,” he said. “It’s really a big thing.”

Sprowls said liquor-by-the-drink would also bolster the county’s sales tax coffers.

“It generates a lot of tax dollars,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that keeps people at home instead of having them go to Newton or McPherson, Emporia or Wichita.”

Steve Garrett, chairman of Marion County Economic Development Council, said the council has not estimated the economic impact that liquor by the drink might have if passed.

“Frankly we’ve not had a lot of conversation officially about the issue,” he said. “The Economic Development Council, as an arm of the county government, does not take a stand on issues that go to the vote of the people.”

The city of Newton, which passed a liquor by the drink resolution in 1996, has seen a positive economic impact.

“I think having liquor by the drink in a community is definitely an economic driver,” said Mickey Fornaro-Dean with the Harvey County Economic Development Council.

“The big push was so we could get better restaurants in town,” said Virgil Penner, director of the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce, which coordinated the campaign for liquor-by-the-drink.

Although Newton was successful in attracting an Applebee’s restaurant, Penner is disappointed they have not been able to recruit additional restaurants to town.

“It hasn’t opened the door as much as we thought it would,” he said.

But neither has liquor by the drink created the problems that many envisioned when the new law was passed.

“I don’t think there is much negativism about it,” he said.

Safety concerns

Fears of increased drunken driving and accidents are frequent objections to liquor by the drink, but Marion County Sheriff Lee Becker said he doesn’t believe those problems will materialize.

“From a law enforcement standpoint, I don’t think it’s going to affect our business at all,” he said. “When you’re talking about liquor-by-the-drink in a restaurant setting, you’re going there for a different reason other than just the alcohol.

“If everybody-the bar owner, the patron, and law enforcement-is doing everything they should, there shouldn’t be any adverse effect,” he added.

“We have well-run businesses here, and they are making sure people either find a ride home or they get somebody to take them home.”

Carolyn Anderson said she doesn’t hesitate to “cut people off when they’ve had enough” at the Coneburg Inn.

“I let anybody and everybody know that if they want a ride home no matter where they live, I will give them a ride home,” she said. “And I will get their car home to them that night, too.”

Bob Sprowls said having liquor-by-the-drink in Marion County might actually make county roads safer.

“There’s nothing worse than having people drive over to McPherson or Newton and get a few drinks and then drive back on the road,” he said.

Moral issues

Liquor by the drink also raises the moral issue of consuming alcohol.

Pastor Gaylord Goertzen, chairman of the Hillsboro-Area Ministerial Association, said the association does not plan to make a public comment on the issue, and people seeking church guidance should consult their individual clergy.

“We, by intention, stay away from political issues,” Goertzen said. “If someone wants to ask personally how we feel, then that’s fine. But we very deliberately separate politics and our preaching.”

“We speak out on moral issues, but if it’s concerning a specific vote, for the most part we would not say where we stand.”

Mary Glenn said she hopes the public will understand that a vote for liquor-by-the-drink is not a vote to promote drinking.

“This is to bring people into our communities and allow our clubs and restaurants to survive,” she said. “It is economic development for Marion County. We’ve got to do everything we can to keep businesses here.”

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