LUBBOCK (AP) — When prohibition was lifted way back in 1933, Texas was a little slow to catch on.
It wasn’t until two years later when the state finally repealed its own alcohol ban, and even then Texas allowed local governments to remain booze-free. While many areas to this day remain dry, on Saturday the biggest teetotaling town in Texas may be going wet.
Voters in Lubbock will decide whether beer, wine and liquor will be available in stores around this town of about 210,000.
For decades, Texas Tech University students and anybody else looking for a drink had to make their way to a quarter-mile patch of pavement that serves a handful of stores on the southeastern edge of town.
Those who favor alcohol sales in the city say it’s time the city show some progressiveness, citing convenience, paying a fair price for alcohol and economic growth.
“We need to be on a level playing field” to compete with other cities for businesses, said Melissa Pierce, chairwoman of Lubbock County Wins, a political action committee pushing for the measure’s passage. “If it doesn’t happen now, it could be another 40 years before we talk about it again.”
Opponents say quality of life will suffer in neighborhoods near the stores, underage drinking will increase and the city over time will become seedy. Brant O’Hair, co-chairman of the group Truth About Alcohol Sales that opposes the measure, said he believes most liquor “package stores” will go in poorer neighborhoods.
“The people who are most vulnerable in our society will be affected the most,” he said. “Follow the money. It’s the liquor lobby.”
According to the most recent fundraising reports, Wal-Mart gave the largest single contribution, $25,000, to Lubbock County Wins. Last fall, the retailer contributed $50,000 to fund a drive to collect petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Most of the more than 60,000 signatures garnered were gotten in front of its stores.
Small contributors are funding the opposition group, many coming from donations after speaking to church congregations. Truth About Alcohol Sales raised more than $23,600 since January and spent more than $2,000 over the same period.
Other efforts to bring package sales into Lubbock in years past never could garner enough support.
Last summer the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members and they overwhelmingly said they wanted voters to decide the issue. The chamber formed a PAC and in October enough signatures were gathered to call for the election.
Since then, Lubbock County Wins and Truth About Alcohol Sales formed to support and oppose, respectively, the measure.
John Hatch of Austin-based Texas Petition Strategies helped the chamber’s petition effort and then was hired by supporters of the measure.
Alcohol sales in Lubbock would benefit the city’s economy, said Texas economist Ray Perryman. He estimates local taxing entities would gain $5.2 million in additional tax revenue each year if the measure passes.
“It makes sense for the area from a purely economic perspective, no doubt about it,” Perryman said.
If passed, the measure will create more than 2,400 jobs and increase annual spending in Lubbock by $251.6 million, he said.
In 2006, city officials voted to annex The Strip, as the row of beer, wine and liquor stores along the Short Road is known, to increase sales tax revenue. That allowed alcohol sales in the city but it did not allow them in the rest of Lubbock.