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Business Boost

Oldham County to vote on
alcohol sales in La Grange

Tourism officials support it
to increase traffic to the city

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky. (April 2012) – Registered voters within the La Grange city limits are being urged to sign a petition to hold a special election centering on alcohol laws. The Oldham County Tourism Commission is behind this push in the hopes of increasing attraction options to bring new visitors into the city and keep existing residents from spending their dollars elsewhere.

Kim Buckler

Kim Buckler

“The petition is a vehicle to get signatures showing that enough people in the city are interested in having a special election to vote for what they want in their city,” said Kim Buckler, Executive Director of the Oldham County Tourism Commission.
This proposed change would make La Grange, a fourth-class city, a “wet” city. For a vote to be held, 870 individuals must sign the petition and then be verified as registered La Grange voters. The next step would be for county government to establish a date for the special election to be held.
“The wet vote would allow for the city to become wet with certain provisions,” said Buckler. It makes sense to the Tourism Commission to target La Grange because that is where “our lodging facilities are located. Our lodging guests have been clear as to what changes they would like to see happen to better their stay.”
Buckler said most guests did not realize until told that there were still communities in this day and age without a place to buy alcohol.
“Our out-of-state Derby and NASCAR visitors have been in disbelief to learn that a state known for its bourbon still has communities where you can’t buy it freely.”
Natasha Vittitow, manager of Holiday Inn Express, said she has lost room sales because of the city’s inability to provide package alcohol sales. Vittitow said she has had “complaints that you can’t buy alcohol here. People have come in and left.”
Vittitow said that if the vote passed, it would help “my business tremendously. People would stay in town, eat in the restaurants and shop in the local stores.”
La Grange is classified a fourth-class city based on population. “We have a right by state stature,” to target just La Grange in this petition, said La Grange City Mayor Bill Lammlein.
If such a vote were to pass, he sees huge economic gains for the city. “We have a large number of people going to Jefferson County to buy alcohol by the bottle in liquor stores. We hope to keep those people in La Grange,” and by doing so, keep their spending money within the county.
The wet vote would permit package liquor stores to be located within the city limits. Based on population, La Grange could have three package liquor stores.
“The bottom line is this,” said Buckler, “if we can keep those folks in Oldham County we are less likely to lose other sales such as groceries, gas, gifts, hardware, etc. A goal of tourism, in general, is to keep visitors as busy as you can in your community so you don’t run the risk of them staying too long in another one and spending their money there. If someone has to go to another community to get what they want or expect, they will do other things while they are there.”
Linda Goin, Executive Director of Discover Downtown La Grange, said, “To be able to sell alcohol in La Grange could help to retain both sales and tax dollars that normally go elsewhere.”
From her perspective, “Going wet would be an absolute economic advantage to La Grange.” Even though tourists will still travel to wineries and bourbon distilleries, “the ability for resident countywide and tourists to purchase alcohol in La Grange only helps to keep a lot of dollars in this town and in the county.”
Goin sees going wet as an economic advantage for people who stock home bars with package sales from counties outside Oldham County. Goin said she would encourage “everyone who resides in La Grange and who is a registered voter to sign the petition, because even if that person is against alcohol sales in La Grange, he or she will have a chance to vote on that choice.”
If approved, the wet vote would open the door for current smaller restaurants that have less than 100 seats to serve beer with no food-to-beer sales percentage, said Buckler. It would allow those restaurants with at least 50 seats the option for a wine permit with a 50/50 food-to-wine percentage. “The current liquor ordinance will not change with this vote.”
“The advantage to going wet is that more restaurants can open I smaller places, providing both tourists and residents with more options for dining and drinking,” Goin said.
Lammlein sees “absolutely no negative effect” to expanding current liquor laws and making La Grange wet.

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