The Oxford Board of Aldermen’s consideration of Sunday alcohol sales includes discussion of an old but explicit requirement that’s seldom mentioned and seldom discussed in enforcement of alcohol laws: 25 percent of gross revenue must come from food sales in businesses licensed to sell liquor by the drink.
The Oxford board discussed the percentage requirement, which is not unusual in the context of state and local liquor laws nationwide (some food requirements are significantly higher), because it reasonably wants to temper the likelihood that a Sunday bar culture could evolve from Sunday sales legalization.
As is widely known, excessive alcohol consumption centering around the student culture at the University of Mississippi has brought some unflattering notoriety to the city and the university.
The city and the university have taken steps through education and stricter enforcement to, in effect, lower the volume of the party.
Besides its status as the home campus of Ole Miss, Oxford is a thriving and pleasant small city whose quality of life has soared in recent years because of strong planning and focus on specific kinds of development.
The growth and the prosperity includes a diverse entertainment and dining business sector, but that historically has been mostly dark on Sundays – and generally more subdued. Many people like that break, but many also recognize that Sunday liquor-by-the-drink sales and beer sales become more important in remaining fully competitive with cities of similar size in Mississippi. Tupelo, Starkville, and Columbus, all competitors for conferences and entertainment and tourism dollars, have legalized Sunday sales.
Now, a community task force has recommended legalization in Oxford, but the city is correctly weighing options . The 25 percent revenue-from-food requirement strictly enforced for business licensing would challenge some establishments, but it would not be a problem for restaurants that usually make most of their money on food sales.
The possibility of split hours providing effectively a brunch-lunch sales window and a supper-dinner window is a reasonable consideration.
Beer and light wine sales also would remain restricted to unrefrigerated products, a long practice that is seen to discourage quick purchase/quick consumption sales. Package liquor sales would remain illegal on Sunday. The 25 percent requirement and a strict ordinance involving sales records and audits as needed is, as described, a legal “hammer” over the head of licensees.
The way Oxford has approached the issue is rational and civil, suggesting that a compromise is likely to be worked out.
NEMS Daily Journal