Oxford panel recommends Sunday sales

OXFORD – The Alcohol Task Force recommended Tuesday that the Oxford Board of Aldermen apply for permission from the State Department of Revenue to allow limited Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages.
The task force sought input from Oxford residents, restaurateurs and tourism professionals and consulted with officials from other college towns that have legalized Sunday sales.
Those residents objecting to Sunday sales focused on religious, cultural and law enforcement concerns, while supporters cited personal choice, the prospect of more restaurants opening and economic benefit from more weekend tourism.
“What we found pretty universally … is that the real problem in the university towns is that Thursday, Friday and Saturday are the real party nights,” said task force member Jack Dunbar. Sunday “is not a law-enforcement, irresponsible-drinking day in any of the communities we contacted. It’s more like a Tuesday.”
The recommendation includes split hours for Sunday alcohol sales at restaurants. Brunch hours would be 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with dinner hours from 5 to 10 p.m.
“It recognizes that those are hours in which restaurants serve food,” Dunbar said.
The task force also recommended that grocery and convenience stores be allowed to sell beer and light wine – warm, as with all other days – from noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Task force members suggested one innovation to aid enforcement, even if aldermen decide against Sunday sales. Lax enforcement of a requirement that liquor licensees get at least 25 percent of their revenues from food may mean some bars – especially those catering mostly to college students – skirt the requirement.
The task force recommended any new alcohol ordinance require license-holders to certify they meet the threshold – and to submit to and even pay for audits of their food sales. Violators would be turned over to state authorities, who could revoke their liquor licenses.
“It’s a hammer,” Dunbar said. “I don’t want to call it a threat, but it’s a real risk if they decide not to sell any food and just be a bar.”
Task force members originally had envisioned the audit requirement only for those who apply to sell on Sunday. Chairman Peyton Self added, “We thought we could put some teeth in this thing by requiring the audit option for everybody.”
Aldermen made no promises of how soon they might vote on the issue.
“Thank you,” Mayor George “Pat” Patterson told task force members. “We have a lot to consider.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.

Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal