Advocates say legal alcohol could pour revenue into Randolph
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Oct 15, 2012 | 4594 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This ABC store near Heflin is one of the closest places Randolph County residents can go to buy alcoholic beverages. Voters in Randolph County will decide in November whether to allow alcohol sales there. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
This ABC store near Heflin is one of the closest places Randolph County residents can go to buy alcoholic beverages. Voters in Randolph County will decide in November whether to allow alcohol sales there. (Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star)
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HOLLIS CROSSROADS — Six months ago, Kenneth Breed imagined business would be booming.

The Heflin native opened up his own liquor store along U.S. 431 in rural Cleburne County in May, hoping to attract patrons just before they crossed the county line into dry Randolph. Breed’s Liquor Store was the last stop for anyone in need of a quart of whiskey or bottle of wine before heading into Wedowee or Roanoke.

“It hasn’t quite been what I expected,” Breed said Friday morning in his empty store. He cited several factors for slow business, including the high markup of prices he has to have after purchasing liquor from the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board, as well as the availability of cold beer and wine in grocery stores throughout Cleburne County that can eat away at his alcohol sales.

“Liquor is about all we got left for mom and pop places like me,” he said.

But his biggest competitor in the future might not be growing chain stores in Cleburne County. If Randolph County residents vote to go wet on Nov. 6, Breed said he doesn’t imagine it’ll be long before an ABC store or two opens not too far down the road from him.

While Breed might not be happy about it, the group Keep Dollars in Randolph County will likely see it as a major victory. After announcing its formation in a press conference last month, the group began actively campaigning for the legal sale of beer, wine and liquor in one of Alabama’s two remaining completely dry counties.

The reason they want alcohol sales? Ron Young, the group’s co-chair, gives a one-word answer: “money.”

“We just want to keep business revenue and tax right here,” he said. “We’re losing a lot of money.”

A flier the group distributed at a press conference two weeks ago cited a study by the business school at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The study estimated more than $90 million in retail sales is lost to nearby counties annually, they flier said.

If that number seems high, that’s because it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with alcohol, according to Ken Miller, a professor at the UAB business school. Miller conducted the study with two business students in 2011 on request of the Randolph County Economic Development Authority.

“Alcohol was frankly a small part of that, because Randolph is dry,” Miller said, adding “we do not project or even try to project sales tax or revenue.”

Attempts this week to reach the development authority were unsuccessful.

Young admits the $90 million figure has nothing to do with alcohol sales but said the study shows the potential retail boost the county is missing out on if people decide they need to travel across county or state lines to buy liquor and do other shopping at the same time.

Young said the group’s own study, yet to be published, uses population estimates from the Census Bureau combined with tax revenue breakdowns from the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control Board and other business studies to come up with revenue estimates.

But the actual numbers are hard to verify, mostly because Keep Dollars in Randolph County hasn’t released its study yet.

Young said the group isn’t trying to hide its findings, but after working for several months on the research, he said the priority is to make sure the findings have been examined thoroughly to provide as accurate a picture as possible of what the future of Randolph County might look like with legal alcohol sales.

Keep Dollars in Randolph County will release the study this week, Young said.

But even without the group’s numbers, similar studies have shown that alcohol sales have been able to provide, at the very least, a moderate boost to revenue. In 2006, the city of Jackson — similar in size to Roanoke with a population of around 5,000 — voted to go wet and, according to The South Alabamian, was able to raise almost $200,000 in revenue from alcohol sales within six months. The Cullman Times reported in 2010 that Cullman County brought in $1.2 million in revenue in the first year of legal alcohol sales there.

Breed knows a successful "yes" vote on alcohol sales Nov. 6 will be bad for his business, but he said he doesn’t find fault in the efforts to legalize sales in the dry county he hoped would produce his most valuable customers.

“People have the right to choose if they want alcohol sales,” he said. “And the fact of the matter is, they probably need it down there to help them out.”

Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.
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