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Wet or Dry?

La Grange liquor vote July 24
will determine alcohol sales

Tourism supports initiative
to help keep visitors in town

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

LA GRANGE, Ky, (July 2012) – The wait is almost over to find out if the City of La Grange will expand liquor sales. A special election has been scheduled for July 24 to determine if the city will become a “wet” city or merely remain “moist.”
“I turned in over 400 signatures to the County Clerks Office,” said Kim Buckler, Executive Director of the Oldham County Tourism Commission. “A special election has been set for July 24. If it passes, we will be wet by October.”
The Oldham County Tourism Commission is spearheading the effort to expand liquor sales in La Grange. The commission’s efforts are twofold: It hopes to increase attraction options in the city in an effort to bring in new visitors, while keeping existing residents from spending their dollars elsewhere.
“We’ve had a lot of interest in the county becoming wet also,” said Buckler. In fact, she said her biggest feedback has been the comment, ‘Why not go county-wide?’ with liquor sales.

Kim Buckler

"We’ve had a lot of interest in the county becoming wet also."

– Kim Buckler, Oldham Co. Tourism Director

Buckler said three well-established chefs have contacted her about opening nice restaurants, but feel they can’t do so without serving alcohol. While she cannot disclose their names at this time, she feels these restaurants would add tremendously to what the city and county already has to offer.
She said the petition got good coverage when placed in restaurants and businesses in La Grange. “I have 95 active followers on Facebook, as well.”
Between 350 and 400 signatures were needed to hold a special election to put it to a vote. Buckler only had one chance to submit enough signatures to the County Clerk’s Office.
She personally checked all signatures to make sure the individuals were registered voters who signed the petition and lived within the city limits, and would therefore be eligible to vote in July. Many signers did not reside within the city limits.
Buckler said she only heard two or three negative comments. Some who are not for it are churches, or groups you would normally expect to be against such a vote, she said.
As a fourth-class city (based on population), La Grange would still have to abide by certain provisions, which allows more control over alcohol sales. The sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants would not change, she said.
Restaurants must have at least 100 seats and are required to make 70 percent of their sales from food, in order to sell liquor. 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.”
Serendipity, located on Main Street, is one of the smaller restaurants that would be affected if the vote passes.
“We now have seating inside for about 35 customers,” said manager Becky Kimbles, who favors the city going wet. If the vote passes, “we can add 15 to make it to 50 seats, no problem.”
If required to have 100 seats, “that would change all Serendipity is,” said Kimbles. “It’s hard to get 100 seats in here.”
She plans to expand the business, based on the passing of the vote. Kimbles would like to expand the kitchen, push back an ice cream counter area to make more seating inside, and install a beer garden behind the building. “I’d also like to partner with a local winery,” which Buckler is in favor of as well.
Serendipity has been established in La Grange for more than six years. Each year, Kimbles said she has added to the business and expanded the menu. Currently offered on the menu are soups, salads and sandwiches, such as burgers and grilled chicken. In addition to the beer garden, a grill would be installed, which in turn would offer more grilled sandwich varieties to go along with beer or wine.
“The online poles show that it should happen,” she said. But it comes down to the fact that those individuals must be the ones to go out of the poles and vote. There are plenty who are against it and have voiced their opinion, and more than likely will vote against it, she said. “But I can also see peoples’ point in not wanting it to pass.”
Kimbles said she hopes the entire county will become wet one day, not just the City of La Grange. It will encourage “more little shops and smaller restaurants to open here. Right now, they look at it as, ‘Why should I open here, when I can go to Jefferson County and make more profit?’ ”
She said other surrounding cities are profiting from La Grange’s loss and “taking the taxes from us. We should be the ones getting the tax money.” She would also like to see the city run a package liquor store if at all possible, and put the money back into the city.
Up to three package liquor stores could open in La Grange if the vote passes. They would be subject to state alcohol beverage control approval.
The Tourism Commission targeted La Grange because it is where lodging facilities are located within the county. Buckler said she would rather see visitors purchase liquor to drink in their hotel rooms rather than drive to Louisville for alcohol to drink and then drive back to their hotel in La Grange.
Buckler believes that going wet would be “good for tourism, and eventually for the whole county. It’s good for the city, and it’s good for the economy.”

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