Swain County to vote on alcohol sales

Swain County to vote on alcohol sales

Swain County Board of Commissioners added a referendum to November ballots that will allow residents to vote on the on-premises or off-premises sale of beer and wine. 

Currently, alcohol sales are only permitted in Bryson City with a few exceptions such as resorts. Some business owners outside city limits feel this puts them at a disadvantage.

“You have to get real creative in the privately owned land around here to make a living,” Nate Darnell, owner of Darnell Farms, said. “There’s a necessity for a business in this region, especially this one county, to be able to compete and survive.”

On April 2, Jessica Rogers, owner of Nantahala General Store, addressed commissioners with this concern and requested they consider allowing alcohol sales throughout the county. Commissioners unanimously agreed to add a referendum that would allow off-premises sales to the November ballot.

However, Swain County business owners felt their request was not fully heard. On Tuesday, May 21, Rogers returned to address the board again, this time joined by Grant Outlaw, owner of Carolina Ocoee, and Darnell. The three came together to explain the importance of on-premises sales to the commissioners.

The same day, commissioners voted 4-1 to add on-premises sales to the referendum. David Loftis was the only opposing vote.

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“We don’t want to see bars all over the county,” Loftis said.

According to The Smoky Mountain Times, Commissioner Phil Carson agreed with Loftis.

Chairman Kevin Seagle feels like that won’t happen.

“I don’t think people will be opening up bars because there’s a lot of red tape in that,” Seagle said. “You have to have a facility that meets the qualifications that the state of North Carolina set to actually serve the alcohol.”

For Seagle and other commissioners the support lies with business owners and not with alcohol.

“I’m not a big alcohol proponent, I think it does more damage than good, but I understand that it’s legal and people will do it whether they do it here or somewhere else.”

For business owners outside of city limits, the opportunity to sell alcohol can keep them on an even footing with Bryson City businesses.

“I think I can succeed, but [selling alcohol] would definitely help,” said Darnell. “I don’t want the people in Bryson City, who I love and respect, to think I’m competing with them. I want to have the option, or at least have the option for the people in the community to vote whether I will be able to do that.”

Commissioners and business owners agree the most important part of this referendum is that county residents will vote and decide what they want. Seagle believes voting is the reason why he’s not heard any opposition.

“Because it’s going on a ballot, it’s not something we as the commissioners decided,” he said “I think that makes it a little more palatable for people to understand it; it will be voted on instead of five people just making that decision.”

Darnell understands the decision is not easy for some citizens.

“I see the concerns of people, whether it be the dangers of alcohol, religious beliefs or just personal preference. I understand these things and I empathize with them,” Darnell said. “That’s why I like this referendum; it’s what the people in the county want and not with the commissioners as five individuals want.”

Ultimately, the responsibility of alcohol safety falls on business owners, Darnell said. 

“I don’t want my farm to become a place where people get drunk and act like a fool. This is a family establishment. Anybody, race, color or creed, is welcome here at any time as long as they’re respectful,” Darnell said. “And if for whatever reason I had alcohol for sale down here and I could no longer provide that service to my county, then I’d stop it.”

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