The lights on the far walls of local grocery stores could soon shine on Sundays, with York County voters set to decide another Sunday alcohol sales issue in November.
On Jan. 3, the York County Registration and Elections commission certified a petition calling for beer and wine sales at “off-premises locations” such as grocery stores on Sundays. More than the required 7,500 signatures made the petition, allowing for a full county vote during the Nov. 6 general election.
“The requisite number of signatures as required by law was met; therefore, the question will appear on the ballot in November,” said Wanda Hemphill, director of York County Registration and Elections.
Grocers, especially in communities in York County that border North Carolina, aren’t shy about their support of the change. North Carolina stores sell beer and wine on Sundays.
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“It’s huge for us,” said David Gray, manager of the Lake Wylie Food Lion. “Being located near the lake, we have a lot of people who are interested in purchasing on Sunday. It’s not just the business. It’s also the tax base. We’re losing it.”
Mike Campolieta, store director at the Fort Mill Harris Teeter, said a law change could allow him to keep regular customers who on Sundays travel to North Carolina, or to the Walmart in Tega Cay. Tega Cay allows for Sunday sales within its city limits.
“It’s right there at Walmart,” Campolieta said. “Then there’s the Harris Teeter three miles down the road (in Steele Creek).”
The alcohol issue isn’t just beer and wine, he said.
“It’s going to impact us tremendously,” Camplieta said of the November vote. “What else are you going to buy when you come to buy beer or wine?”
The movement toward Sunday alcohol sales isn’t the first in York County, and it isn’t the first coinciding with a presidential election. In 2008, voters approved a law change allowing restaurants to serve alcohol on Sundays with a 63 percent approval. Susan Bromfield, president of the Lake Wylie Chamber of Commerce and supporter of both movements, said the decision to bring up further Sunday alcohol sales with another presidential election was somewhat intentional. The highest turnout means the most opinions accounted for on the issue, she said.
It isn’t just their proximity to North Carolina that Bromfield says will have Lake Wylie and Fort Mill residents looking for a change. It’s their high-growth demographic, with many recent transplants from states that allow Sunday sales.
“They’re surprised that we don’t have that already,” Bromfield said.
Gray said customers from Ohio, Massachusetts, Maine or other locales come in seasonally looking for supplies for a lake party, and the current law is “not in tune with what they’re used to.” Even part-time Lake Wylie residents make the mistake of trying to purchase on Sunday.
“We could almost fill up a shopping cart with the beer and wine that people want to purchase,” Gray said.
Saturdays and Sundays are his two biggest sales days.
The 2008 decision gained momentum from business leaders arguing that restaurants were losing Sunday business to neighboring North Carolina. Then-York County Councilman Tom Smith called the move a help to long-time businesses and an “added bonus” for new businesses that would “certainly open up the door for those people to look” at opening in York County.
Lake Wylie restaurant owners and managers praised the 2008 vote for allowing them to keep customers who “drive across the bridge on Sunday when they can get what they want here,” describing business prior to the vote as “people coming in and leaving to go home to watch the game.”
“Whether we have sales in here or not, people are going to have a drink anyway,” said Rey Azteca owner Jose Ayala. “They just go across the bridge and spend their money there.”
This year, the question may be whether voters see the Sunday alcohol sales vote as the same economic issue or more a matter of convenience to shoppers. Either, Gray said, is a reason for change.
“That’s the biggest part about being a grocery store,” he said, “being convenient to people.”
For people who shop when they have time to, which often is a Sunday, the sales issue isn’t one of morality or tradition, Bromfield said. And unlike the restaurant vote of 2008, where some opposition stated that alcohol sales could lead to more people having to work on Sundays, grocery stores are open with or without alcohol sales.
“It may not be that they drink a drop on Sunday,” Bromfield said of shoppers, “but they want to have the choice to buy what they want.”