Is liquor really our economic salvation?

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, September 30, 2009


The Picayune Item has come out strongly in favor of bringing liquor sales to Pearl River County. I feel that the other side of the issue should be given equal airing.

Some people who move here are surprised to learn that this is a dry county – except for beer in Picayune. In this day and age that is a bit unusual, but it is one of the factors in our local culture that makes this a special place to live. Many of us think there is a value to that culture that should not be discarded lightly, because once we change it we can never go back. This isn’t a minor thing; it would forever change the unique culture of Pearl River County as we know it.

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The argument that we should “be like everybody else” is a weak one. I’m reminded of the old parental retort, “If your friends jumped off a cliff would you follow them?”

People who feel the need to be close to a source of liquor have plenty of other places where they could choose to live. People who prefer not to live in that environment ought to have a place of choice as well, and that place is here.

There is a misconception that the law would merely allow people to have a cocktail or glass of wine with a meal. In fact, it would allow restaurants to have a full-fledged bar, as long as they also have a substantial amount of revenue from food sales. Bar patrons could drink all they want without buying food.

We’re talking about establishing bars, period. Liquor advocates are well aware that this is the first and most difficult step. After that, the rest of the dominoes fall easily. It wouldn’t be long before someone would complain that it’s not fair for only restaurants to have bars and not independent operators. Then comes the idea that it’s unfair to have to buy liquor by the drink instead of in bottles. Then county residents should have the same rights as city residents. Drip, drip, drip.

The big argument offered for legalizing liquor is that it would attract new businesses and bring economic growth. This is the saddest excuse of all. All you have to do is whisper “economic growth” in the ears of some politicians and they will embrace anything. But think about it. Do you really think liquor is the answer to Pearl River County’s future? Of all the ways we could create jobs, this is the best we can come up with? We could list many other vices that might bring in more dollars but I doubt we want to legalize such things, despite the old saw that people are going to do it anyway.

Will liquor make this a better place? Has more liquor ever made anything better?

By the way, liquor won’t stop people from shopping in Slidell. It’s a bigger town; it has more stores.

This bizarre state law that allows any place in Mississippi to be designated a “resort area” so they can serve liquor, through a rather convoluted backdoor legislative maneuver, is kind of disturbing. Well, it’s kind of dishonest, really. If we’re a resort, where are the cabanas and tourist traps?

Comes now the Applebees angle, the “big revelation” that an Applebees “might” have been interested in coming here. This is cited as the ultimate proof that we have to legalize liquor. Oh, please. Does anyone have any hard numbers, actual verifiable data that could show the economic benefits of liquor? They don’t because there are no such numbers. Liquor isn’t the pivotal issue for very many businesses considering a move here. It’s about the market.

Some people just want liquor here for their personal convenience. The economic argument is a convenient hook and may sway a lot of people, but it has little substance.

Our local law enforcement agencies are keeping quiet about this, maybe because they want to stay out of the politics of it. But I doubt that they’re thrilled at the prospect of more drunk drivers and domestic tragedies, as is sure to happen. Prove it, you say? Okay, does anyone think liquor would mean fewer drunk drivers? You may have heard the argument that it would be better for people to drive drunk a shorter distance than all the way from Slidell, but somehow that isn’t too comforting. It seems to me the shorter drive would be more of a temptation to drive drunk. Has anyone checked with the auto insurers to see where rates would go when our drunk driver accidents increase?

To sum it up:

1. Legalizing liquor would mean a profound and irreversible change in the culture of Pearl River County. Let’s think long and hard about whether we want that.

2. If liquor is the Holy Grail of economic growth for our community, something is really, really wrong.

Dave Sims