A slim margin of voters swayed the outcome on Nov. 6. A mere 48 votes (249 to 201) passed the malt beverage referendum and 20 votes (235 to 215) passed the mixed beverage referendum.
Local business owners like Marlene Alvarez, who operates On the Verandah, have begun transforming her restaurant’s menu to incorporate mixed drinks and beer. Starting in March, Alvarez said her restaurant will be fully permitted to start selling both.
“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “Fourteen years since the last vote to give the people the choice if they wanted it or not.”
In 1993 when voters went to the polls to determine if the town could sell liquor drinks, the option was defeated by more than 60 votes. The approval last week has caught some restaurant owners off guard.
Sabrina Hawkins, owner of The Kelsey Place Restaurant, has not made any plans yet for her restaurant.
“It’s a change,” she said. “We’ve never had it. Right now I am just processing all the information.”
Bob Boshelle, owner of Hill Top Grill, is pleased with the decision.
“I am glad they passed it,” he said, even though he will not be adding beer to his hamburger joint’s menu. “It’s going to increase business.”
For those businesses that choose to sell beer and liquor, the application process is relatively easy. Business owners can apply online at the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and a temporary permit will be awarded once the application fee is paid, explained Fred Gregory, chief legal counsel at the state Alcoholic Beverage Control office. A beer permit is $400 and a mixed beverage permit is $1,000.
In addition, all ABC permit holders must renew each year. To renew a mixed beverage permit is $750 and a beer and wine permit renewal fee is $200 per year.
Finding enough money to pay this extra fee is holding up some decisions on whether to apply.
Allan Schultz, owner of the Fireside Restaurant, is one owner who is debating making a change to his menu.
“It’s very expensive,” he said. “But I will probably end up adding it to the menu.”
But ponying up enough money to pay the fee does not bother owners like Alvarez.
“We expect the return to be there,” she said. “The biggest thing now is spending the $1,000.”
Restaurants who receive an ABC permit are also required to recycle all glass bottles, which will pose some difficulties for restaurant owners in Highlands.
“We have no recycling, unless we do it ourselves,” Schultz said.
The town only requires residents to recycle cardboard. If citizens choose to recycle, they can deposit their plastic, aluminum cans, paper and glass and at an unmanned Macon County recycling center along Hale Ridge Road. Recycling beverage containers will become mandatory for all businesses who hold ABC permits beginning Jan. 1.
“It will require all beverage containers to be recycled,” said Joel Ostroff, Macon County’s recycling coordinator.
But in Macon County residents are not required to recycle. It is on a volunteer basis. The lack of recycling requirements might create some hurdles for Highlands restaurant owners.
“If we don’t recycle, we lose our permit,” Schultz said.
Highlands officials have formed a task force to address the issue even though the town is not required to offer recycling for ABC permit holders.
For some time now, task force members have been exploring options but have not come up with a solution.
“There doesn’t seem to be any easy way,” said Robert E. Smith, a member of the task force. “In the rural areas there is very little commercial recycling.”
“There is no place to haul it and there is not a market, especially out here in the boonies,” said Smith.