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Saluda voters will decide on mixed drinks on Nov. 5

Town Commissioner Leon Morgan, owner of M.A. Pace general store, favors letting voters decide whether all restaurants and bars can serve mixed drinks. Town Commissioner Leon Morgan, owner of M.A. Pace general store, favors letting voters decide whether all restaurants and bars can serve mixed drinks.

SALUDA — If the average person dining in downtown Saluda heard that the town’s voters would decide a liquor-by-the-drink question on Nov. 5, he or she could be excused for being puzzled.

A few places in town already serve mixed drinks, thanks to a quirk in the law that townspeople call the loophole. The loophole allows restaurants to sell cocktails if they’re in a historic building and 15 miles from a historic byway. The law lets a few in and keeps others out. That may change soon.
In March the Saluda Board of Commissioners voted to put the question to voters. Specifically, voters will mark “For” or “Against” the change in law “To permit the sale of mixed beverages in hotels, restaurants, private clubs, community buildings and convention centers.”
A visit to Saluda uncovered no yard signs, no visible campaign at all and no heated debate.

Half could sell cocktails, half couldn’t

City Administrator Jonathan Cannon said the Purple Onion owners got the discussion going when they decided to pursue a mixed drink license based on the loophole.
“In the state of North Carolina, there is a General Statute that basically says that no matter where you are, if you meet certain criteria, such as you’re near a certain historic byway, regardless of whether the city allows it or not, you’re allowed to sell this,” he said. “About half the restaurants that sell alcohol (beer and wine) actually qualify for this criteria and the other half don’t.”
Purple Onion owners told the town board, “We’d like to take advantage of this.” The board said fine, Cannon said, but also added: “If half can and half can’t (serve mixed drinks), how’s that fair to the half that can’t?” He estimated that four to five restaurants were eligible to sell cocktails and about the same number were ineligible.
The liquor referendum hasn’t sparked much action so far.
“I have heard nothing in all honesty of any rumblings for or against it,” he said. “I’ll be interested in how this plays out.”
Business owners largely support the change.
“I think everybody is probably in favor of equal rights but I haven’t
really heard much” about the vote,
said Cathy Jackson, a Realtor and a leader in efforts to promote business and tourism in Saluda. Because
Saluda is so small — it has only 519 registered voters — the turnout will likely be low. Voters approved a similar change in 2005 in a referendum that expanded beer and wine sales — which had also been limited to historic buildings — citywide.
“I remember in 2005, I think maybe a hundred people voted,” Jackson said. “If you check where the business owners live, most of them do not live within the city district of Saluda. They don’t even have an opportunity to vote one way or the other.”
Jackson would be surprised if anyone mounts a campaign against mixed drinks, given that spirits are already here, just not everywhere.
“Other business owners wanted to have the same opportunity” as those in historic buildings, she said. “It was really about equal rights for all business owners to do the same thing. All the business owners have a very cooperative spirit. It’s the most harmonious group I’ve ever seen. It’s that old saying that when the tide comes in, all the boats rise. That’s what I’m in favor of.”
Purple Onion manager Emily Lamar seemed to confirm the spirit of unity.
“We’re in favor of it, too, because we believe everybody should have the same opportunity to sell mixed beverages,” she said. “It has been good for the town and it keeps people in Saluda, which is important. We’ve had a couple of B&Bs that have said they had customers who asked where they could get a nice cocktail and they had to send them to Hendersonville.”
Among those that could benefit are Saluda B&Bs, Saluda Outfitters, an outdoor store with a beer and wine bar and food on weekends, and Green River BBQ.

‘Let the people vote’
Town Commissioner Leon Morgan, who owns and operates the historic M.A. Pace general store, voted to put the question on the ballot last March.
“I don’t drink and I’m really not for it but it’s all over town,” he said. “The ones that got it because they’re in a historic building, they’ve been doing it a long time but the others can’t. I think the fair thing is to let the people vote and if they want it, OK, if they don’t want it, OK.”
Morgan doesn’t sell beer and wine in his general store but he acknowledges that one day might change.
“When we purchased this store from Robert Pace, he told me, ‘If you buy it I don’t want you selling alcohol.’ And I said, ‘As long as I’m in control it’ll never be sold and when I’m gone what my children might do I can’t control.’ I think he was perfectly happy with that and I stand by what I told him,” Morgan said.