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Positive impact on sales expected, but store changes can get a little complicated

Retailers getting ready for cold beer sales in city

Starkville — City government in this college town will now comply with state law with the passage of a cold beer ordinance, allowing stores within the municipality’s limits to refrigerate the alcoholic beverage and light wine.

Local business owner Curt Crissey said that it is time for the city to take the plunge into cold beer sales, an issue that has been lukewarm with Starkville aldermen for many years until the 6-1 favorable vote was taken at an August meeting.

“Starkville will no longer have a stigma of not being progressive,” said Crissey, owner of Brewski’s, Coconut’s and the Bulldog Package Store. “Since this has passed, I’ve had business people calling me and telling me they are now looking at the city.”

A Mississippi Attorney General’s opinion from 1998 put the city in direct conflict with state law when the state’s decision said that municipalities have no right to regulate the temperature at which alcohol can be sold. Aldermen decided to keep the ordinance they already had on the books prohibiting cold sales, which survived until now without a lawsuit to challenge it.

Board listening

Crissey, who also owns the Old West Point Road Grocery in the city limits, said he believes the current board is proactive and listening to the townspeople.

“They are voicing the feedback from the community. Those who are for refrigerated sales have said they’d love to see it. And, even though that may be the popular belief, there are always those with moral convictions who will yell the loudest,” he said.

Store owners affected by the new ordinance have modifications to make to their businesses to accommodate the cold alcoholic beverages.

David Chadwick, regional advertising director for Kroger grocery stores, said, “We will have to add refrigerated cases, but I don’t see anything drastic having to be done. Common sense tells you, though, that this should increase sales.”

Crissey sees his job of updating his stores as a little more complex as he contemplates knocking out some walls.

“It’s causing me some grief. I can’t seem to come to grips with what I want to do. I don’t approach things simply and ask myself questions like, ‘Do I want walk-in coolers or just open cases?’” he said, adding that one decision has been made to put “beer caves” in Brewski’s.

“Most big stores have these now,” he explained.

Market impact

While cold beer and light wine sales may see a boom in these first few months of the new ordinance, restaurant owners and managers don’t see it changing their environment since they have already been serving beer and wine to patrons at food establishments.

Terry Long, general manager of Harvey’s restaurant, said, “I don’t think we’ll see much of an effect regardless of what’s going on with the stores. People may be out and about a little more, but the stores will definitely see the biggest push.”

Social reasons are why restaurants develop regular customers, according to Crissey, who opened Rosey Baby’s Cajun-style eatery several years ago.

He said, “It’s a type of social life for my patrons. They want to come in, relax and talk about their day over a beer.”

As a revenue incentive for the city, Crissey said he doesn’t see convenience and grocery store beer sales as a driving factor for the economy, even though he predicts a good September because of the novelty of the situation.

“What would have a huge impact would be Sunday sales,” he said, pointing out that he doesn’t open his restaurant on Sunday because of the ban. “To me, this is when people really want a beer, when they’re firing up their grills to watch a big game on TV.”

While Starkville will no longer lose cold beer customers to stores across the county line six days a week, the seventh day remains in question — as do the statistics on whether or not refrigerated alcoholic beverages will bring in new business entrepreneurs or more jobs.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Harriet S. Vickers at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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