Dunwoody residents are likely to get their say in the Sunday liquor sales debate this fall.
Tuesday, the Georgia House passed a bill to allow Sunday alcohol sales, and the bill is now moving on to Gov. Nathan Deal, who has said he’ll sign it.
For people in the alcohol sales industry, it is welcome news.
“It would definitely be a good because we’ll be open another day,” said Pratik Patel, owner of the Perimeter Bottle Shop. While the issue has been bounced around for several years, he said he figured that sooner or later the bill would get approval.
State law currently prohibits grocery stores and other retailers from selling beer and wine Sunday, though people can buy and consume alcohol in bars and restaurants on Sunday. But under the bill just passed by the House, county commissions and city councils would face the question of whether to put the question before their voters.
For municipalities, Patel thinks it is a no-brainer.
“Nobody wants to lose tax dollars,” he said. “If it becomes law, Dunwoody has to have it or all those tax dollars will go somewhere else.”
Most members of the Dunwoody Council say they support putting the issue to the citizens.
“I definitely support putting it on the ballot,” said Councilman Denis Shortal. “I’m a big one for letting the people decide. I always feel that the people are probably a better judge of things than the government.”
On Wednesday, Councilman Danny Ross asked that the issue be put on the council’s May work session, so the council can discuss it in depth.
“I’m in favor of it,” Ross said. “I think it would be a good thing economic development-wise.”
Ross said it makes sense to have it available every day.
“You can buy Corn Flakes on Sunday and that’s a legal product,” Ross said. “Why can’t you buy beer as well?”
The idea isn’t popular with everyone.
While Dr. Wiley Stephens, the head pastor at Dunwoody United Methodist Church, supports and advocates the right of the people to vote on the issue, but he believes alcohol is a detriment to society.
“If I had the power to remove all alcohol in the world, I would, because I’ve seen what alcohol does to people’s lives,” he said. His church hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings that more than 200 people attend.
But further, he said, it is another encroachment on Sunday as a day of worship and rest.
“We are losing something when we lose that day,” he said. “Whether people choose to worship or not, I think it’s important for people to have a day to stop and catch their rest.”
He added, “Our society is changing in that sense and I think it’s a loss that we don’t have the day for family and worship and just a different pace of living.”
But some Dunwoody residents said they’d like to see the ban lifted.
“People who want liquor buy it on Saturdays,” said Jim Mammoser, who said he’d support lifting the ban. “They are going to buy it anyhow, it’s just an inconvenience that they can’t buy it on Sundays.”
Robert Finch, who moved to Georgia from Alaska, feels the same way.
“I’m all for it,” said Finch, who now lives in Dunwoody. “I feel it’s high time that it happened. I don’t understand why you can’t buy it any day of the week here. It feels backwards.”
Rick Esterline, pastor at Atlanta North Church, a Seventh Day Adventist congregation doesn’t mind Sunday sales. Though his church holds Saturday to be the Sabbath, that’s not his issue with a ban – he’d be against a Saturday ban, too. For him, it's the principle of separation of church and state.
“We do not wish for government intervention to support our religious convictions,” he said. “We don’t recommend government intervention to support anybody’s religious convictions in regards to closing. That’s why the Pilgrims came to the United States, because of the church of Rome had been intervening in government to the extent that it became oppressive and so they came here for freedom.”
However, he said, his church does have a history of supporting prohibition, and still is against the use of alcohol.
A Feb. 10 poll by The Schapiro Group, an Atlanta-based public opinion research firm, said 78 percent of Georgia voters want the opportunity to vote on Sunday alcohol sales.
If given the chance to decide, 61 percent of metro Atlantans said they would vote for Sunday alcohol sales. Of the remaining respondents, twelve percent were “probably in favor;” 5 percent were “probably against;” 16 percent were “definitely against;” and 6 percent were undecided.
Metro Atlanta voters, men, and residents of urban and suburban areas are most likely to vote in favor, while voters over age 60, non-metro Atlanta voters, and rural residents are the most likely to vote against, the survey found.