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Should Harrodsburg go all the way wet?

The Harrodsburg Herald of Harrodsburg, Kentucky

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Citizen Group Seeks Local Option Referendum

A group of Harrodsburg residents and business owners are collecting signatures for a local option referendum to expand the sale of alcoholic beverages in Harrodsburg.

The petitions, created by the Citizens For Economic Growth (CFEG), can be found at C&T Food Market, Kentucky Fudge Company, Fort Harrod Color and Blue-grass Animal Hospital.

Phillip Crump, chairman of Citizens for Economic Growth, said there were 20 members in the group, which formed after a 2014 Community Advancement Partnership (CAP) visioning session.

"The CAP visioning exercise set forth a list of citizen priorities for the next 10 years plus. Increasing local revenue is imperative to implementing those priorities — which expanded sales will certainly do," Crump said.

According to Kentucky law, all revenue from the increased alcohol sales must be earmarked to local law enforcement. CFEG say the additional funds would allow Harrodsburg to maintain essential services. Funding for the police department would be strengthened while other city revenues would be freed for new uses.

Mercer County is officially dry with two moist spots — Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, which has been selling alcohol by the drink since voters approved it in 2007, and Harrodsburg, which has been moist since 2003.

There are five restaurants in Harrodsburg that sell alcohol by the drink, said Rebecca McKinney, the city's part-time ABC administrator. McKinney, who is also Harrodsburg's occupational administrator, has overseen alcohol sales since 2004. Sales are limited to restaurants seating at least 100 people and 70 percent food sales.

McKinney said there hasn't been an effort to make the city all the way wet before.

"There's a whole lot for us to learn," she said.

"I want it!" said Charlie Martha, owner and proprietor of C&T Food Market on North Main Street.

Martha is not talking about drinking alcohol. He's talking about selling it.

"I get people in here every week asking for it," he said. "It's frustrating."

Martha said he had no idea how much money he'd make if he started selling beer at C&T.

"It's hard to tell," he said. "It's uncharted waters."

But if people currently driving to Danville or Anderson County started buying locally instead, Martha thinks it would be good for business. Everybody's business.

"We don't want a bar on every corner," said Tim Kazimer. "But there are a lot of people leaving Mercer County to get alcohol."

Kazimer and his wife Jennifer have owned and operated the Kentucky Fudge Company since 2006. He said they started selling alcohol by the drink three years ago.

"We don't lean on it too much," Kazimer said, "but it's a nice supplement."

Like others who support going wet, he said he's more worried about the local economy as a whole rather than any one business's part in it.

"There would be a lot of small economic benefits to help Harrodsburg," Kazimer said. He does not think expanded alcohol sales would change the area's character any more than going moist did.

"We're a conservative town and that's not going to change," Kazimer said.

One of CFEG'S main arguments is eliminating what they believe is a competitive disadvantage against neighboring cities that have gone all the way wet.

Danville, which has been moist since 2003, went wet in 2010. Bridgette Lester, the ABC administrator for the City of Danville — and director of codes enforcement — said there was $16 million in alcohol sales last year. That generated $45,000 in license fees and $514,000 in revenue from regulatory fees for the city.

Lester said there are now 46 businesses with alcohol licenses, including six package stores. She said there were only 13 when the city was moist.

It was not an overnight transition, Lester said. The Danville government had to negotiate a bewildering legal process after the election. The commonwealth issues more than 70 different types of licenses for alcohol sales. Lester called Kentucky's alcohol regulations "as clear as mud."

One point brought up by wet proponents statewide is attracting chain restaurants, which don't typically locate their stores in dry areas. Tourists, especially out of state tourists, tend to prefer chain restaurants over local eateries.

Lester said it isn't quite as clear cut as wet proponents make it out to be.

While Danville has gained one new chain-based restaurant, Cheddar's, since going wet, other locations were in Danville for years.

Lester instead pointed to Danville's thriving downtown district.

"There are several things downtown we would not have had without the quota package/drink license," she said.

CFEG and other wet proponents are concentrating on the monetary value of going wet.

"This initiative is being driven solely for economic growth," said CFEG treasurer Jim Tanner.

Copyright 2015 The Harrodsburg Herald, Harrodsburg, Kentucky. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: October 8, 2015

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