Voters get final say on Easley Sunday alcohol

By Jason Evans

Staff Reporter

EASLEY — When they go to the polls in November, Easley voters will decide whether to allow businesses and nonprofits to sell alcohol on Sunday.

Easley City Council members voted 5-1 on second reading Monday to allow the issue to go to a referendum in November.

Councilman Terry Moore cast the dissenting vote, as he did on first reading. Councilman Chris Mann was on vacation.

Councilman Jim Robinson said, in addition to other letters, the city had heard from a national grocery store chain that had a location in Easley. The letter was in support of the referendum,

“In that letter, the manager of the store said that Sunday is the second busiest shopping day of the week,” Robinson said. “Based on this request from Easley businesses, I believe that the matter should be decided by the voters in a referendum.”

Moore said he’s heard from numerous people in the city who oppose Sunday alcohol sales.

“I just don’t feel like it’s right for the city of Easley,” he said.

He scoffed at the economic claims.

“I keep hearing tax dollars, tax dollars, income,” Moore said. “I’m hearing greed, not need.”

“If you want to use alcohol, fine. You’ve got six days to go buy alcohol,” he continued. “Why make it Sunday? Why go in a restaurant when you’ve just left church and watch someone funnel alcohol? Can’t Christians not have one day?”

Mayor Larry Bagwell urged voters to vote their conscience.

“We all realize this is going to be a controversial issue, no doubt about it,” Bagwell said. “Nobody’s trying to twist your arm. All we’re going to do is put it on the ballot. This is an opportunity for you to express yourself in November.”

Surrounding cities of similar size to Easley have all approved Sunday alcohol sales. Bagwell said he worries that the city will lose business, which in turn, would put pressure on council to raise taxes to make up for lost revenue.

“We can’t sit still,” he said. “If we sit still, we’re going to be dying.”

Councilman Kent Dykes said this was a “pivotal time in the city of Easley.”

“We want a lot of input, and it’s there,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re allowing this to get on the ballot so the citizens of Easley can express their position and vote on this. That’s where it’s going to happen in November. That’s where we all ought to be out campaigning, for or against this.

“I don’t have — we don’t have — the authority to say we’re going to have Sunday liquor sales,” Dykes said. “And we don’t want that authority. It should come from the citizens.”

Before the vote, council heard from those on both sides of the issue.

Cindy Hopkins, executive director of the Greater Easley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber supported both allowing the voters to decide and the Sunday alcohol sales issue.

“From an economic growth perspective, our organization represents restaurants and retailers who would economically benefit from Sunday alcohol sales,” Hopkins said. “We just really feel like it would be a positive economic impact for the city of Easley as a whole, for a number of factors, that would have a positive effect on our economy here. Therefore, based on that rationale, our chamber does support allowing our citizens to vote in November to determine if we are to support Sunday alcohol sales.”

Council also heard from John DeWorken, representing the South Carolina Retail Association. He said that organization also supports taking the issue to the voters.

“Just want to encourage the council to give voters the opportunity to choose what they want to do in this community,” DeWorken said.

Resident Jeff Cook told council he was “vehemently opposed” to allowing alcohol sales on Sundays.

“There are six other days during the week when a person can consume alcohol,” Cook said. “I remember that it says in the Bible to remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy. I’m asking you to do that.”

Cook said he wanted to publicly thank Moore for his “strong stance” on the issue.

“If you’ve never experienced what alcohol can do, it’s devastating,” Cook said. “It’s the devil in a bottle. The alcoholic started with that first drink, and the recovering alcoholic is one drink away from falling back.”

He asked council to reconsider the vote they were going to take on the ballot issue.

“I hope we can settle this before it ever comes to a referendum,” Cook said.