The Nov. 5 election will feature a controversial amendment about alcohol sales that many business owners feel is a long time coming.
For the first time, registered voters in Tifton will be allowed to vote on two amendments to allow Sunday alcohol sales. According to City Clerk Rona Martin, Tifton officials were first approached about the idea during the alcohol-license renewal period.
“Almost all of our alcohol licensees wanted to know about Sunday sales,” Martin said. “We then went back to the restaurants and said, ‘If this is what you really want to do, you need to let us know.’”
Martin said she was then contacted by a representative of the Georgia Restaurant Association, who subsequently represented most Tifton businesses in a discussion before the city council. Martin said the city council approved it, giving Tifton the opportunity to vote yes or no. The ordinance and resolution were passed unanimously by the city council.
“In general, the council felt like they wanted to give the voters the opportunity to decide whether they want it,” Martin said. “That’s what their responsibility was.”
Karen Bremer, Executive Director of the Georgia Restaurant Association, agreed that the voters should decide.
“The Georgia Restaurant Association supports the ability for municipalities to decide whether they want alcohol sales on Sundays,” Bremer said. “We are currently providing alcohol training to any restaurants requesting Sunday alcohol sales.”
The referendum will appear on the ballot as, “Shall the governing authority of the City of Tifton be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink? "
The second part reads, “Shall the governing authority of the City of Tifton be authorized to permit and regulate package sales by retailers of both malt beverages and wine on Sundays between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.?”
If the law passes, restaurants and bars will be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages from lunchtime on Sunday until midnight. Package sales of malt beverages and wine may also start around lunch on Sunday, but must be over by 11:30 p.m.
Martin said the alcohol ordinance has been under comprehensive review, and she has been surprised by the response — or lack of response — the city has heard concerning Sunday sales.
“At this point, I haven’t gotten any feedback from the public about Sunday sales. There have been several opportunities for the public to speak about it,” Martin said. “We are in the Bible Belt and people have very strong feelings about certain topics and this is one of those.”
The last time the alcohol ordinance received a major facelift was in 2004, when Tifton voted in favor of serving liquor in restaurants. The referendum passed 55 percent to 44 percent.
“When our alcohol ordinance was adopted in 2004, there was a lot of communication about it. This has been very different,” Martin said.
The idea surrounding Sunday sales in Tifton was first introduced following the 2011 election, which saw 105 of 127 counties green-light Sunday sales, including Ashburn and Valdosta. Albany, Americus and Waycross all voted no. Since then, many local areas have seen business leave town.
Troy Apodaca of TK’s Beer and Wine on 20th Street says it is tough competing with nearby cities when businesses here are not allowed to sell on Sunday. In the 10 months TK’s has been open, Apodaca estimates that around $50,000 has left for nearby Ashburn and Valdosta on Sunday.
“It sucks because everybody goes to Ashburn and they raise their prices to make more on it and sell the heck out of it,” Apodaca said.
Apodaca says the reason for the strict alcohol rules and regulations stems from a style of thinking not pertinent to today’s society.
“The elders of ours are not really the best for change and that (Sunday Sales) would be a major change,” Apodaca said. “To us growing up now, change is constant. We’re used to it.”
“It’s only going to help make our community grow, especially being on I-75,” Apodaca said. "Let’s catch up to the 21st century.”