“We want the people to have a voice since it has been an issue before,” mayor Neal Florence said.
“This issue is far too big for just five people to decide,” said council member Andy Arnold, who believes that the people, and not the council, should make the final decision on liquor in LaFayette. His challenger, Beacher Garmany, echoes the sentiment, saying he is “in favor of letting the citizens decide, instead of the city council.”
LaFayette already contends with the ramifications of alcohol sales.
The LaFayette Golf Course recently adopted selling beer to golfers, while the private membership of the Elks Lodge have enjoyed a full bar just outside city limits for many years.
“We already have it in the county — why not the city?” asked Keith Talley, who is running for the Ward 2 council seat.
“If a business is to keep its doors open, it must be given certain incentives to do so. Without our business dollars and support, no one can survive,” said municipal judge candidate Ken Maples. “Before you travel to Fort Oglethorpe or Dalton, shop our local businesses first. Chances are you'll find the same things here at home and save a pocket full of gas money as well.”
An influx of chain restaurants arrived quickly four years ago when Fort Oglethorpe passed a similar measure, bringing in establishments that average 5-10% alcohol sales, but achieve tens of thousands of dollars in business weekly, according to one of the restaurant managers.
LaFayette residents who frequent restaurants that serve alcohol must go outside of the city and even the county, frequently to Battlefield Parkway, which has a handful of restaurants that do.
“ If someone wants to drink, they go to Dalton or Chattanooga, then drive back to LaFayette all boozed up,” said municipal judge Barry Hollis. “If people think that drinking and driving is not going on in this town now, they are kidding themselves.”
Hollis does not expect an increase in DUIs if the measure passes, but does question whether “kids on the golf course [are] going to take it up,” referring to the mixture of high-school-age players and adults who regularly use the course.
The Nov. 3 vote will not change the golf course’s ability to serve beer, despite mayoral challenger James Mashburn’s contention that “it should be taken out of the clubhouse,” in the event the people were to vote no on the issue.
Mashburn says he is vehemently against the sale of alcohol, “always have [been] and always will be.”
However, in the event the referendum passes, Mashburn thinks “permits ought to be low enough for all businesses to be able to afford it,” allowing an even playing field for local businesses.
From an economic standpoint, the candidates differ on what potential revenue the sale of spirits could bring.
Florence said, “There would not be much to gain. With only a $10,000 to $12,000 increase, it’s not enough.”
Council member Norm Hodge agrees. “In discussions that I have had with city leaders from Ft. Oglethorpe, Ringgold and Summerville, alcohol by the drink has not had as much of an economic impact as you might think. I don't believe it will pass here in LaFayette,” Hodge said.
“It would help the city. It would help it tremendously, I believe,” Talley countered. “That’s what this town needs. LaFayette needs more growth.”
Even those opposed to alcohol in the city admit to taking their dollars to Battlefield Parkway for dinner.
“I have eaten at those restaurants,” Mashburn admitted.
Wendell Bruce is one of two local restaurant owners who have embraced the concept of brews with burgers, saying imbibing increases the bottom line.
Bruce and his wife operate the Village Sports Bar and Grill in Fieldstone Farms on U.S. 27 in Rock Spring. “I saw a need for it since everyone rides to Chattanooga,” said Bruce, who added that he has seen “great support from the local people. Everyone understands we are not one of those Rossville Boulevard type bars.”
With “nothing comparable in the area,” Bruce says the restaurant draws a capacity crowd on Friday nights, when live music is played.
Village Sports Bar and Grill has been open for several months and averages 18-20% of gross sales even though they only serve beer and wine.