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Last updated 9:44AM ET
March 6, 2021
Alcohol Sales Still Legal In Athens
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Voters in Athens decided Tuesday to continue to allow the sale of alcohol in the city's stores and restaurants, according to unofficial results.

City clerk John Hamilton said 6,318, or 53 percent of the city's registered voters turned out for the citywide elections. Of those voters, 68 percent voted against the measure to end the sale of alcohol in Athens.

Public policy experts said such prohibition votes aren't unheard of, but they are rare.

The wet-to-dry vote came less than four years after the north Alabama city of 22,000 narrowly decided to legalize the sale of beer, wine and liquor in stores and restaurants. While opponents back then feared an influx of bars and nightclubs, even they now credit city leaders with keeping tight reins on the sale of alcohol.

Pastors and church leaders who led the petition drive to put the issue before voters said alcohol sales should be outlawed on moral grounds, but supporters cast the issue in financial and quality-of-life terms.

City government makes almost $250,000 in extra sales taxes directly tied to alcohol, according to Mayor Dan Williams, and city schools get the same amount. Overall tax revenues have grown since alcohol sales were legalized in January 2004, and Williams said the increase was at least partly tied to alcohol sales.

At West End Outdoors, which sells everything from fish bait to food, manager Jimmy Fox said his initial opposition to legalized alcohol sales was overcome by a lack of alcohol-related problems in the city. Also, Fox said, the availability of alcohol at his store has increased overall sales by some 20 percent.

"People are buying everything at one stop and it's not causing a problem doing it," said Fox. "You'll see Athens become a ghost town if it goes back dry."

Wine has become the drink of choice for many at Giovanni's Italian Grill, an upscale restaurant which opened on the courthouse square about three weeks ago. Giovanni's relocated from the nearby town of Hartselle, where voters rejected legalized alcohol sales about five years ago.

"I don't want to see us go back to being dry, but we can survive without it," said James Foster, a manager at the restaurant.

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