Prohibition in the Tri-County area is over at least as far as each of its cities goes.
By an nearly two-to-one margin Tuesday, Williamsburg voters decided to follow suit with what neighboring communities are doing and allow alcohol to be sold by the package in stores and by the drink at restaurants that seat at least 50 people.
448 Williamsburg voters cast yes ballots for expanded alcohol sales while 241 voters cast no ballots during the special election.
Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison, who spearheaded the petition drive behind Tuesday’s alcohol referendum, said he wasn’t surprised that the measure passed but was surprised by the overwhelming margin.
By contrast, when Williamsburg voters approved the sale of alcohol by the drink at restaurants that seat at least 100 people in 2012, the wet forces were only victorious by 14 votes.
“I think it says a lot. I think it says that we are ready to move forward and do different challenges to grow as a city,” Harrison said.
Harrison said he could cite numerous instances where visitors came into Williamsburg but didn’t stay here because they couldn’t purchase a bottle of wine.
Pro-alcohol supporter Danny Davenport said he too wasn’t surprised by the outcome.
“We knew going in that we were heavy favorites,” Davenport noted. “Everybody around us has it. It was a no-brainer. If you don’t want to drink don’t go to the liquor store or the bar or whatever.”
Davenport doesn’t expect to see a great deal of change in Williamsburg because of the vote.
He credits Harrison for spearheading the effort and doing an “outstanding job.”
Davenport admits that he was a little surprised by the margin of victory but not a lot.
“We thought we would win by 150 votes and that is pretty close,” Davenport noted.
“No’ supporter not surprised
Ken Sims, who created the VoteNoJune28.com website and headed up the opposition effort against the measure, said he was naturally disappointed by Tuesday’s outcome but wasn’t really surprised given the relatively low voter turnout.
“I pretty much felt like that if we didn’t have a huge turnout that it would go this way,” Sims noted.
Sims said he felt like that during the 2012 election where alcohol by the drink sales were legalized at restaurants in Williamsburg a lot of “no” supporters stayed home mistakenly thinking that it had been voted down in the past and would be beaten again.
“I had hoped it would be the other way around and some of the ‘yes’ people would stay home. Obviously they didn’t and the ‘no’ people stayed home,” he added.
Harrison said that he appreciates everyone who went out and voted Tuesday on both sides.
Harrison said he can remember the old Road Runner and Willey Coyote cartoons where the Coyote was always trying to capture the Road Runner.
“One time, the Coyote caught the Road Runner and held up a sign saying, ‘You’ve always wanted to see it. Now what?'” Harrison noted. “That is where I am now.”
Right after the totals were finalized Tuesday, Harrison, who also serves as the city’s Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) Administrator, said he texted a state ABC official asking for help.
He isn’t sure exactly when the first packaged alcohol sales will begin.
Harrison said that from his perspective, the biggest thing the vote does is open up downtown for more development.
Because of the smaller seating capacity and lower percentage of food to alcohol sales the new law will allow, he thinks this potentially opens up downtown for more restaurants.
It won’t happen overnight and he is not guaranteeing this will happen.
Harrison said that Somerset’s mayor told him he has had more progress in the last four years since the town went totally wet than he did in the prior 15 years.
“Will ours be like that? I don’t know. I have learned my lesson about promises,” he said laughing.
Over 20 percent turnout
Whitley County Clerk Kay Schwartz said voter turnout Tuesday was 22 percent.
“I thought the turnout would be larger than it was,” Schwartz admitted. “We had no real problems today. No big issues.”
Schwartz said one person called complaining that some “vote no” signs were too close to one poll.
She said the law has changed and the signs only have to be 100 feet away from the entrance to the polls so there was no violation.
Sheriff Colan Harrell went out and measured and the signs weren’t too close to the precinct.
On March 20, 2012, Williamsburg voters approved a referendum allowing alcohol to be sold by the drink at restaurants that seat at least 100 people and derive at least 70 percent of their profits from food sales. The measure passed by a vote of 533-519.
On Valentine’s Day 2012, Corbin became the first town in the Tri-County area to approve the sale of alcohol by the package and by the drink at restaurants that seat as few as 50 people. Voters approved the measure by a vote of 887-789.
The move was a financial boon for Corbin, which has annually been collecting about $800,000 in alcohol tax revenue.
Spurred by Corbin’s success, about six months ago, pro-alcohol forces gathered signatures on petitions to place identical measures on the ballot in surrounding communities.
On Dec. 29, 2015, Barbourville voters approved the sale of alcohol by the package by a vote of 498-433.
About three weeks later on Jan. 26, London voters approved the same measure by a vote of 1,105 to 771.
In early April, Harrison submitted an alcohol petition to the Whitley County Clerk’s Office that came up six valid signatures shy of having enough to place the measure on the ballot.
About three weeks later he submitted a second petition with 527-valid signatures on it in order to place the alcohol referendum on the ballot, which was 138 valid signatures more than he needed to place the measure on Tuesday’s ballot.