There is a spectrum in alcohol use. One end of the spectrum is no alcohol, known as “teetotaling.” The other end is probably public intoxication or alcoholism.
No sane person is going to advocate for public intoxication or alcoholism, so in regulating alcohol use the question has always been how far out from the no alcohol end of the spectrum is the government going to place the regulatory limit.
In the 1940s and 1950s, in the South of my youth, there were many cities and counties that were “dry.” You could not sell or buy alcohol there. You could possess it or consume it in the privacy of your home, but the goal was to prevent the sale of the substance.
There were “private clubs” where you could take a bottle and purchase mixers or set-ups, where you could mix a drink for yourself or your guests at your table. Since you could not buy that bottle locally, people drove to a neighboring “wet” county and purchased it there.
“Dry” communities were normally dominated by religions that believed consumption of alcohol was a sin, and the churches banded together to form a powerful political bloc to greatly limit its availability and consumption.
As the years passed, values changed. While conservative religions still resisted the sale of alcohol, more and more people began to accept the notion that social drinking of alcohol in reasonable amounts added to the quality of life of a community. Governments realized that they could sell very limited numbers of licenses to sell alcohol and charge high fees — ”sin taxes” — for them. Restaurants realized that a license to serve only beer and wine, or hard liquor, too, meant they could up the scale of their establishments. They could charge more for food, as well as add the revenue from alcohol sales.
The beautiful city of Asheville, North Carolina provides a good example. When I first visited Asheville in mid-1970s, it was a “dry” town. You could walk the sidewalks of the business district and admire the surrounding mountains, but the businesses were dominated by stores selling trinkets. Their racks spilled out onto the sidewalks and filled them. The restaurants were either fast food or local coffee shops.
My career took me and my family to other parts of the country for 17 years, and when we returned to Florida in 1999, and Susan and I decided to return to Asheville on vacation. It had gone “wet,” and the whole town had changed. It was much more upscale. No more trinket stores and much nicer restaurants. There was actually room to walk on the sidewalks.
The Plant City Commission has scheduled a vote on our liquor ordinance, which is fairly conservative. Our wonderful Strawberry Festival is totally “dry,” in the name of keeping it a family experience, and it should remain so. But Plant City Main Street is proposing to modify our city alcohol ordinance, with the ultimate goal of creating a higher scale restaurant or bistro in Downtown or our new Midtown, of increasing our quality of life.
Polk County has done it, as well as Tampa. For economic development, as well as our quality of life, we should be thinking about tweaking our regulation of the sale and consumption of alcohol in Plant City. No one wants to see scenes of public drunkenness in our great downtown. But our merchants can work with Plant City Police Department to control that while seeking to strengthen our economic development and quality of life.
Plant City Main Street is to be commended for seeking to bring our city ordinances in line with our 21st-century community values.