Debate over Sunday alcohol sales in Greenville Co. continues - FOX Carolina 21

Debate over Sunday alcohol sales in Greenville Co. continues

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Wine is served at an Upstate restaurant. (File/FOX Carolina) Wine is served at an Upstate restaurant. (File/FOX Carolina)

The alcohol laws in South Carolina are a part of the state's history, dating back all the way to prohibition until recently.

In 2006, South Carolina became the last state in the nation to allow bars to free pour instead of using mini bottles. But the debate over alcohol sales still remains in some areas, surrounding serving alcohol on Sundays.

It's been the forefront of controversy and voted on in several elections. Most recently, Newberry County became the first county in the Upstate to allow it. Still a majority of counties across the state don't allow Sunday alcohol sales, including Greenville County.

Voters haven't gotten the chance to vote on the issue in nearly 14 years.

Only establishments inside the cities of Greenville, Mauldin and Simpsonville in Greenville County have the option to buy a local option permit.

The permit applies only to food establishments, which hold permanent liquor by the drink license and a permanent beer/wine permit.

This permit allows the establishment to operate and to possess, sell and consume alcoholic liquors, beer and wine during otherwise restricted hours. This permit is valid each Sunday morning 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. and 10 a.m. to 12 a.m. on Monday for an annual 52-week period and costs $3,000.

Money Omar Naji, who owns Southern Culture in Greenville, said the permit helped his new restaurant flourish.

"If we didn't have the alcohol, our food sales would drop by 50 percent," said Naji.

There's also an economic impact. The more money a restaurant makes, the more each establishment pays in hospitality taxes. And many argue it adds jobs as well.

"It's not the alcohol sales themselves that is going to be the extra money," Douglas O'Flaherty, director of operations for the South Carolina Lodging Association, explained. "It's if there's alcohol; if its present then food sales will increase."

"Like I said, Sunday is one of our busiest days," Naji added. "We are fully staffed. If we didn't have alcohol we'd probably have half the staff here."

Unlike Naji at Southern Culture, a lot of restaurants miss out on this extra revenue, which in turn is money that could be generated for county government.

Last year alone in the City of Greenville, there were 93 permits issued bringing in a total of $279,300. One hundred percent of that money came back to the local jurisdiction. The city of Greenville passed the Sunday sales ordinance back in 2000.

Greenville County hasn't allowed voters to decide on the issue since 1999. That's the last time it was on the ballot, and it was defeated by 6,700 votes.

"Since 1999, a lot has changed in Greenville all around," said Naji. "A lot more people have come into Greenville and I think it should be put back on the ballot just to see what people think about it. It's put up for a vote. People can decide whether they want it or not."

However, not everyone agrees. Many said Sunday is a day set aside for God. In fact, pastor Steve Stroup of Lifesong Church of Greenville said alcohol, period, is a hot topic.

"I think the means of whether or not you drink alcohol is even a highly debated topic within the church community," said Stroup.

As far as Sunday alcohol sales go, Stroup was quick to point out it goes beyond a ballot and a yes or no vote.

"What should we be going after? What should be our priority as a church?" Stroup said. "In a sense of every day of the week, every hour, I'm much more interested in the hearts of the people regardless of what they're doing for a period of time on Sunday."

Stroup said the focus shouldn't just be on what the church is against.

"Regardless if the law passes or it doesn't change, and that is to take the gospel and use it to influence and impact people's lives in our city for good," Stroup said.

While the issue is highly debated, there are only two ways to get it onto a ballot.

One way would be for Greenville County Council to pass a referendum to have it on the ballot in the next general election. The second option is for voters themselves to start a petition by getting 10 percent of registered voters to sign a petition saying they would like to see it on the ballot.

FOX Carolina reached out to Greenville County Council Chairman Bob Taylor about the issue.

"It's not something I'm really interested in," Taylor said in a phone conversation. "It didn't pass in 1999, and there's been no discussion of it since that time."

Naji at Southern Culture said some people get the wrong perception when they think about selling alcohol on Sundays.

"Most people come in and have one cocktail and it just creates that extra revenue to make it appealing for everybody," Naji said. "And it creates a buzz of energy. It's people's choice if they want to drink or not."

Other cities in the Upstate allow alcohol sales on Sunday, including Anderson, Greenwood, Greer and Spartanburg.

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