by Nature Humphries
OXFORD, MISS. (TLV) – On Tuesday, July 23, at the Oxford Board of Aldermen meeting, the board held the first reading of a proposed ordinance change that may mean our days of buying hot beer will soon come to an end.
Ward 1 Alderman Jay Hughes recently wrote a letter regarding this issue, stating his opinion:
“It is 2013 and I believe this is a matter of individual rights of adults being able to purchase a legal product, regardless of its temperature. Cold wine, champagne, liquor, liqueur (like Jaegermeister) has been readily available in Oxford for years. But cold beer (which has the lowest alcohol content of all) is inexplicably illegal. There is simply no legitimate reason that an adult is presumed responsible enough to purchase warm beer – but is deemed irresponsible and surrenders that right to the government if the temperature is cooler than room temperature. And, if it is legal to purchase the product, it should not matter which day of the week it is.”
It has, in fact, been an issue that many Oxfordians, not to mention visitors, have struggled to understand. The how and why seem unimportant at this point. It’s just always been this way, and many feel it is past time for a change. Attorney Dee Hobbs, representing two Oxford convenience stores, proposed to delete subsection 2 of Section 14-44, which deals with the “Sale of refrigerated wine or beer.”
Ward 3 Alderwoman Janice Antonow then said she “would like to add … the possibility of the sale of beer in grocery and convenience stores on Sundays. I think some of the issues we’re hearing may be mitigated by adding that.”
While the addition of Sunday sales was not part of the initial request (but is addressed in subsection 1 of the same ordinance), some think it would be an aid to “smaller store owners,” because the additional revenue from Sunday sales could help offset the added expense of new coolers. Of course, an additional day of sales will certainly benefit all the retailers. However, the proposed changes to the ordinance do not force any business owners to upgrade.
In response to these concerns, Dee Hobbs said, “For some reason [some store owners] don’t want to deal with refrigerating beer when, in fact, they don’t have to spend any money. They can take some [other products] out of the coolers and put beer in their place, or pack it more efficiently, or buy cheaper coolers. They don’t have to go get the $20,000 versions that some of the bigger Oxford stores are doing. In addition, they don’t have to sell cold beer at all. They can sell it hot if they want to. This is not a mandate. It is just the availability to sell cold beer.”
According to one source, a large beer distributor in North Mississippi, when Starkville made this change a few years ago, sales revenue went up for every store in town by around 10–15 percent. Some predict the same increase for Oxford stores, possibly up to 18 percent, mainly due to tourism incurred from Ole Miss Football.
It makes sense to assume that tailgaters who, on their way into town, know they can stop in the surrounding counties and buy their beer already cold. So, how many may choose to purchase beer outside of Lafayette County lines?
During the July 23 meeting, there was some discussion about delaying the implementation of the ordinance change, presumably to allow “smaller business owners” a chance to catch up on the time and expense required to upgrade their equipment. Mayor Pat Patterson said, “I think that’s a very good suggestion as far as small business owners are concerned.”
The soonest the ordinance could go into effect would be September 20, because the issue needs to go through three readings, and then must wait 30 days after it has been published and decided. The July 23 meeting marked the first reading of the proposed ordinance change, August 6 will be the second reading that will also be open for public commentary, and then a third at which the board will place their votes should take place on August 20.
If September 20 were the start date, it would allow the retailers much more opportunity for revenue increases during the peak of football season in Oxford, a time of year that is crucial for business owners to make their profits. Delaying the implementation would help no one.
“I think [a delay] is a bad idea for the small convenience store owners because of football season,” said Hobbs, “and that is where everybody is going to kill it on cold beer. So that’s kind of counterintuitive to concerns about helping out the small convenience store owners, because they could make all their expenses back during the football season.”
The Tuesday, August 6 meeting will be a crucial step because the public is invited to come forward and voice their opinions for or against the proposed change. Jay Hughes urged in his letter, “Remember, there is strength in the single voice of many. Make sure you contribute to the voice next Tuesday [August 6] evening. It is time to move past this issue.”
This article first appeared on the front page of TLV #185 in August 2013. All rights reserved.