Each of the four alcohol related measures on the ballot in Jackson County passed, with voters coming out in favor of alcohol sales being permitted countywide, making Jackson only the third county in Western North Carolina to have countywide sales. Jackson residents voted to allow the on-premises and off-premises sale of malt beverages, unfortified wine, the operation of ABC stores and the sale of mixed beverages in hotels, restaurants, private clubs, community theaters and convention centers countywide.
Before Tuesday’s vote, alcohol sales were only permitted in city limits. Sylva passed a mixeddrink referendum in 2006, and Dillsboro has been selling beer and wine in restaurants since 2005. The unincorporated areas surrounding Sylva have previously established businesses that serve alcohol in some capacity already through membership or recreational membership rules. The countywide vote will now allow areas such as Cashiers, Glenville, and Tuckasegee to expand their sales.
“I believe the most important aspect of the successful referendum is that it “levels the playing field” for the entire county as far as restaurants, stores, and clubs go,” said Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten. “We have full alcohol sales in Sylva, limited sales in Dillsboro, and a lot of private clubs in southern end of the county have special exception permits. The success of the referendum now offers everyone the same opportunity if they choose to offer alcohol for sale to their customers.”
According to Wooten, the referendum doesn't means immediate influx in revenue for the county, but instead will be a long term economic development.
“In the short term, I don’t believe we will see significant increases in revenue,” said Wooten. “We hope to see additional sales tax revenue; however, since we already receive 50 percent of the profits from the Sylva ABC store, I doubt we will realize a substantial increase from liquor sales since all licensed liquor sales in Jackson County now go through the Sylva ABC store. I think our greatest potential is for future development which would hopefully add to the tax base and create jobs.”
Wooten noted that the area around Western Carolina University and in the 441 corridor will more than likely experience the largest growth since neither of those areas currently has any alcohol sales.
Cullowhee has arguably the most to gain in the referendum because of Western Carolina University (WCU). For years, advocates for countywide alcohol sales have argued that if sales were extended to the campus, that enrollment numbers would skyrocket which would result in substantial growth for WCU as well as provide an economic incentive for nearby Sylva, who's retail stores would cater to the college crowd.
Former Catamount Jesse Ramirez stated that more students will be drawn to the university because of a vibrant nightlife and then want to stay because of the outstanding academics and beautiful scenery. “I think it could actually bring more students to WCU, if they do it right,” said Ramirez. “Let's face it, people attend colleges for academic prowess but also night life. Right now there is not much to offer. Cullowhee can actually have their own “night life” and it simply be a walk around the corner. “I may go back and get my Masters just to see what they have to offer,” he joked.
WCU alumni Andrew Raby said that regardless of one's personal opinion of alcohol, the referendum will provide an inevitable economic incentive for the university and surrounding areas. “Despite what anyone’s views on drinking and/or partying may be, let’s be honest, it is part of the college lifestyle for many young adults,” said Raby. “The fact that Cullowhee has not been able to offer alcohol in the past has taken away part of the college experience for its students, and also prevented Cullowhee from being a true college town. The new legislation will help WCU move forward into the new generation by allowing room for new businesses to move into the area, and will also make WCU more appealing to prospective students trying to pick between different schools.”
Jackson County native and WCU graduate student Paige Brooks believes that by allowing alcohol sales countywide, both her hometown and her alma mater will benefit substantially. “Being raised in Jackson County, I hope that with the alcohol referendums passing, that there will be more businesses come to our county, which will mean more jobs for our citizens, and have a positive impact on our economy” said Brooks. “As a recent WCU alumni and future graduate student, I hope that Cullowhee will be able to grow into the college town it deserves to be. More people will be drawn to our amazing school and Western will experience positive growth as a result.”
The town of Whittier can certainly expect to see an immediate growth in convenience stores and restaurants on the border of the Cherokee Indian Reservation. Other than sales within the casino, the Reservation is dry — an alcohol vote there was soundly defeated once again last month – but the strip of highway in Jackson County leading up to the reservation's border has plenty of room for businesses to locate. Harrah's Cherokee Casino is a little more than a mile from the reservation's border, meaning guests to the casino would have an alternative opportunity for alcohol other than the casino.
The town of Cherokee will also benefit, making the quiet, historic, mountain town more of a destination because of a greater variety of restaurants and businesses that are sure to pop up surrounding the reservation because of the referendum.