TUPELO – Love it or hate it, Tupelo will lift the century-old ban on Sunday alcohol sales next month.
One boo and a chorus of applause punctuated the City Council’s controversial decision Tuesday night to allow the sale of beer and light wine from 1-10 p.m. at restaurants and stores.
It does not effect regular wine and liquor, both of which still are banned for sale on Sundays, but which are available – along with beer and light wine – the other six days of the week.
Four council members voted in favor of Sunday sales; three voted against it.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. said after the two-hour meeting that he will not veto the measure. It goes into effect in 30 days.
The decision made some cheer, others cringe.
“I’m really happy with the decision,” said resident Joe Bowlin. “I think it will be good for the economics of Tupelo, and I’m glad they made the decision to keep religion out of the vote.”
Another resident, Ernestine Elliff, said she wasn’t surprised by the move, but she is disappointed – and motivated.
“I can tell you right now I’ll be working for the next four years,” she said, “and we won’t have the same men on the council next time.”
The move reverses a long tradition of dry Sundays. Mississippi first banned alcohol in 1907 – years before the rest of the nation – and it wasn’t allowed again until 1966. Even after that, many communities remained dry, either entirely or at least on Sundays.
The last time the Tupelo City Council voted on Sunday sales was in 2002.
Tupelo’s decision to change its ways drew extraordinary attention.
Residents on both sides of the debate inundated the council chambers at City Hall, filling all the seats and lining themselves against the wall. Dozens more spilled into the hallway to witness the historic event.
Ten residents also spoke, including reverends, restaurant owners, innkeepers, teachers and parents.
Many said Sunday is the Lord’s day, and alcohol should be no part of it. Others cited the evils of alcohol abuse and offered grim statistics of its ill effects on society and families. They warned of more traffic fatalities, more broken homes and more crime.
“This is not just a religious issue,” said Guy Lindsey, who described himself as a national forensic counselor. “We’re killing our people, and it happens most often on weekends.”
But several who spoke noted the economic impact sales can have on a community and said Tupelo routinely loses business to other cities for its Sunday beer ban.
Vanelli’s restaurant owner vazVanneli said his out-of-town customers either laugh or shake their heads when they discover they can’t order beer on Sunday.
“Most say they’ve never heard of such a thing in this day and age,” he said.
Also offering support were the Tupelo Restaurant Association and Tupelo Innkeepers Association.
Applause followed all remarks, although the loudest cheers came after those speakers opposing Sunday beer and light wine sales.
The abundance of pro-ban supporters didn’t deter four council members from lifting the restriction. They were Markel Whittington, Ward 1; Fred Pitts; Ward 2; Jim Newell Ward 3; and Nettie Davis, Ward 4.
Davis said Tupelo has grown from a small town into a thriving metropolis during her lifetime and that the city must change to meet its expanding needs. She recalled a 2,000-member sorority conference that Tupelo lost to Tunica several years ago in part because it lacked the social amenities of other cities.
Whittington cited a Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau statistic estimating that the city’s Sunday ban has caused $1.2 million in lost revenue this year alone.
But Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan predicted a revenue decline if the city lifts its ban. He said insurance rates will rise, car accidents will increase and the police department will need more officers.
Bryan was joined in his opposition by Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis and Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings.
“I don’t got a problem with people drinking alcohol,” Jennings said. “Don’t get me wrong. But you got six days to drink all the alcohol you want.”
At least one day, he added, should be set aside for non-drinkers.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click the view slideshow link below picture above to see photos from the meeting.
How they voted:
Yes – Markel Whittington, Fred Pitts, Jim Newell and Nettie Davis.
No – Jonny Davis, Mike Bryan and Willie Jennings.
By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal and photos by Deste Lee