Oxford kicks off its Sunday alcohol sales today after years of deliberation about libations, and the Gridiron wants to run with it.
“We have some customers who come in and sit at the bar to watch football who are absolutely excited for Sundays,” said Crystal Sims, a manager at the restaurant and sports bar. “Especially with this being the first Sunday, and football season has just begun — and NFL games are a big deal at a sports bar.”
The Gridiron, located at the Oxford Exchange, will start the day at 11 a.m. with discounts on some drinks and a new brunch menu. Teetotalers might find themselves duly occupied with the Breakfast Grid — two waffle biscuits with fried chicken, bacon, strawberry pepper jam and honey — while those enjoying the novelty of Sunday sales can buy drinks until 9 p.m., the restaurant’s new closing time.
Sunday sales in Oxford have been brewing for years, with public debate and City Council discussion culminating in a citywide referendum in July. Residents voted nearly 2 to 1 to allow Sunday sales, and now, excluding a restriction period from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. Sunday mornings, alcohol is up for purchase any time during the week. While the 7 a.m. start time is the earliest in the county, it might not be the earliest in the state; Prattville, for instance, has no stipulation about time in its ordinance, leaving it up to individual retailers to pick when to sell alcohol.
Sims said she believes alcohol sales on Sundays will “generate more business and profits, as well as bring in more customers throughout the week and make more regulars.”
Moving to the country?
Oxford is the last large incorporated city in the county to take up Sunday sales; Anniston and Weaver were first to introduce ordinances allowing it.
Calhoun County Administrator Mark Tyner said the County Commission has been recently approached by retailers and restaurateurs in unincorporated areas about countywide Sunday sales. The commission has yet to discuss allowing such a change, but Tyner said he believed it would eventually become a topic in meetings.
Other Alabama counties have authorized Sunday sales, though, such as Shelby County, whose residents voted to allow them by a 70/30 split in a 2016 referendum, according to Kirk Mancer, president of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce.
Alex Dudchock, Shelby County’s manager based in Columbiana, wrote in an email Friday that the lack of Sunday sales had put the county out of the running for a lodging and convention center development that ended up in Jefferson County, further along U.S. 280. The developers cited alcohol sales as a direct contribution to their decision.
They “backed out of site meetings/location and moved up the road slightly to Jefferson County,” wrote Dudchock, “not far from our county line.”
The lack of a Sunday sales law had also created lopsided competition among Shelby County’s bar and restaurant owners; some of the older bars sold alcohol on Sundays, a right grandfathered to them under old club licenses. Newer establishments had to follow state law. They’re equalized now, Mancer explained, which has helped the county attract new food and drink business.
Simpler Sunday shopping
Yvonne Murray, who works with 58 Inc., Shelby County’s economic development arm, said that when she discusses recruitment with breweries, Sunday alcohol sales are always a key factor in the conversation.
Ellie Taylor, president of the Alabama Grocers Association, said that about 21 percent of shoppers go to the store on Sundays, and when a family goes out of a town or county to do that shopping, those places aren’t just losing the price of a Pilsner.
“They’re not only losing the alcohol sales but losing the entire basket of sales on Sundays because someone is going over into another municipality,” Taylor said. “That’s quite a loss for the grocer, the municipality and the county.”
According to Taylor, whose organization lobbies on behalf of Alabama’s grocery sellers, the issue of allowing Sunday sales is more about economics than morality, especially when taking into account those lost baskets of groceries. When planners decide where to put a weekend-long conference, she explained, they’re likely to look for a place where their Sunday brunch can come with mimosas, and folks headed to big events may want to buy beverages for their coolers.
“Oxford is a great example because of Talladega; you literally have an interstate and on one side you could sell and on the other you couldn’t,” Taylor said. Money that might have been spent in Oxford instead was saved to spend near the Superspeedway. “You can imagine the lost revenue when you have big events like Talladega that you would lose customers to.”
Mancer, the Shelby County Chamber president, also cited the 2016 study, which he said was commissioned by the Shelby County Chamber that year.
“Prior to Sunday sales, many Shelby Countians were going across the county lines to buy their groceries,” Mancer wrote. “The reality being that people were not going to go to two different stores, one for food and another for wine and/or beer. They were going to go to the one where they could purchase everything they needed, and too often that was shopping at a grocery store just over the county line.”
Meanwhile, far beneath the ambitions of attracting convention centers and reshaping local economies, Sims said the Gridiron staff is simply excited to give customers more of what they already like — especially with football season just beginning.
“This will be a very special occasion here,” she said.