Saturday beer runs a state tradition

COLUMBIA -- It's Saturday night at Green's Beverages on Assembly Street near downtown, and the rush is on.

More than 50 cars flood the parking lot. Drivers fight for spaces.

Customers push shopping carts full of cases of beer and bags of liquor and wine.

A Columbia police lieutenant hired by the store works to keep things moving.

"If you don't have officers out here to direct the flow of traffic, everything will back up, and you'll probably have collisions in the parking lot," Columbia police Lt. Derrick Thornton said.

People are stocking up on booze for Sunday, including 24-year-old Nathan Ford and his 22-year-old friend, Kirsten Coleman, both of Columbia.

They're sick of driving to North Carolina on Sundays to get alcohol, and they want the scramble to be over.

"I should have the power to purchase whatever I want and do whatever I want without you having the power of telling me what to do," said Ford, who bought a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a 12-pack of Schlitz. "I hate overplanning. I like the continuity of going to the store Sunday and getting my beer."

Ford may soon have that option.

Columbia voters will have a chance Tuesday to decide if grocery stores, convenience stores and other retailers should be allowed to sell beer and wine on Sundays.

Austin Jones, 28, of Columbia, who loaded bottles of Parrot Bay, Chambord and Crown Royal into his car, supports that referendum but wants liquor included.

Janice Wise, 47, of Columbia, picked up a bottle of Jose Cuervo and an 18-pack of Bud Light. She hates running out of alcohol and having nowhere to turn.

"You have parties and let's say you have 'em late Saturday night going into Sunday, you might have nothing to drink," Wise said. "A lot of people have unexpected company on Saturday."

Latanya Service, 32, of Camden, got a half-gallon of Bacardi, a 20-pack of beer, a couple 12-packs and some other items.

She doesn't mind the congestion in the parking lot. If stores sell on Sunday, she won't be buying.

"That's the Lord's day," she said. "People ain't gonna go to church because all they're gonna do is go to the liquor store. Instead of getting up to praise the Lord, all they're gonna do is go to the liquor store. Drinking times three."

Green's has no plans to open Sunday should the referendum pass.

"We like to have Sundays off and go to church and do whatever we want with our families," said Suzie Riga, vice president of Green's Beverages.

Whether it's Saturday or not, parking's always exciting at Green's, she said.

"Our business is incredible, so any day you come down here you're gonna have to accept the challenge of parking, and we appreciate all the people that come down here and accept that challenge," Riga said.

Morganelli's Party Store doesn't plan on opening Sundays either if given the chance.

People are simply in the habit of stocking up on Saturdays, and owner John Morganelli doesn't expect that to change.

"I don't think there'd really be enough volume to make it worthwhile," he said. "Now, I might change my mind if I start losing some business."

Laura Varney, 23, of Columbia, picked up a bottle of Jagermeister at Morganelli's.

Her boyfriend sometimes has trouble saving beer from Saturday for Sunday, so she supports the referendum.

"I love it, of course," she said. "I don't see why not. It's kind of like enforcement of the Bible Belt, the whole blue law thing, and I'm kind of eager to see that kind of stuff go out."