- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (AP) - On June 4, 2013, Brookhaven residents flooded the polls to vote for or against the selling of liquor in the city.

Proponents insisted it would increase revenue and draw in more business.

The opposition argued that alcohol would increase crime and damage the city’s character. Well, the people spoke, and the liquor sales referendum was approved by a nearly 70 percent majority.

One year has now passed since the city decided to sell alcohol. Since then, crime has stayed the same and revenue has gone up, according to local officials.

“I think things have quieted down significantly since then,” said Shirley Estes, an alderman. “It hasn’t made a significant change, except for a few liquor stores.”

After the referendum was passed, the board of aldermen went on to approve an ordinance governing hours of liquor sales, which went in to effect on Nov. 1, and package stores popped up shortly after.

Currently, the city has six: Brookhaven Package, Brookhaven Wine and Spirits, Brookway Wine and Spirits, “G” Liquor, Newmans Package Store and Star Liquor. Newmans Package Store was among the first to open.

Originally, the Newman brothers’ shop was located in Wesson, offering a relatively convenient liquor store just across the county line. Once the dry city went wet, the Newmans seized the opportunity to move closer to their customer base.

Bennie Newman said business has not changed since their move; they get pretty much the same customers as before. He said their low prices and huge selection have always kept them pretty busy.

Since the ordinance passed, Wesson is no longer seeing Brookhaven residents making liquor runs. The alcohol money has changed hands.

Linda Dykes, Wesson city clerk, said that it has not been a huge issue but the sales tax revenue has gone down a couple thousand dollars in Wesson.

Although many Brookhaven restaurants are serving beer, only a few have jumped at the chance to serve liquor so far.

Customers can order a glass of wine at Pasta Junction, a frosty margarita at Los Parrilleros Mexican Grill, and Little Tokyo Japanese Steak House is in the process of bringing saki to the city.

Mike Miscagni, owner of Pasta Junction was not in a rush when he decided to make the change for alcoholic beverages. He waited several months after the ordinance was passed and when his customers began asking, he delivered.

“We do not push it, we do not advertise it, and we only offer it at a customer’s request; out of respect for our non-drinkers,” said Miscagni. “Food is my priority, liquor is just an added bonus.”

Miscagni has benefited from an increase in revenue since he began serving. He also found that residents don’t leave on weekends as much anymore and more out of town customers are popping in for a glass of wine with their steaks or pasta.

The entire city of Brookhaven appears to have been reaping the benefits of liquor.

The overall sales tax revenue have gone up five percent since the ordinance and more specifically the Accommodation and Food Services sales have shown a steady increase since October 2013, according to the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

Police Chief Bobby Bell put the crime concern of anti-liquor lobbyist to rest. He said there has not been a significant increase in driving under the influence tickets or public drunkenness citations since the ordinance went in to effect.

“I have not received a single call about belligerent or intoxicated people in the stores,” said Bell. “I always have concerns when it comes to our youth, but as long as stores enforce their rules there is no problem, which they have.”

Bell said originally he did have some concerns, but after discussing the situation with friends in other cities that recently passed alcohol referendums, Bell found that crime was not a factor and the same people who get drunk before will get drunk after.

Not much changes and not much has changed in Brookhaven.

In 2012 there were 23 DUIs and 50 public intoxications issued. In 2013 there were 21 DUIs and 53 PIs issued. This year, from January to June there have been 15 DUIs and 22 PIs issued.

Bell said that is really no change from before.

Seven months after alcohol sales began in the city, not much has really changed, officials agreed.

As Estes put it, “Brookhaven is full of people with strong values and it hasn’t changed that.”

___

Information from: The Daily Leader, https://www.dailyleader.com

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