by WES FERGUSON
The age of partial prohibition could be drawing to a close in Kyle and Buda.
Voters will go to the polls to decide whether each town should fully relax its liquor laws, according to a local group that says it has collected enough signatures to force the measure onto local ballots in 2012.
The change would allow for the operation of wine bars, cocktail lounges, beer joints, biergartens and saloons in the neighboring cities, but Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson said residents shouldn’t expect an influx of watering holes any time soon.
“I don’t think the election to expand our liquor license rights is going to necessarily bring any nightclubs to Kyle,” she said. “I just don’t think your average Kyle family is really big on nightclubs.”
Instead, she and other supporters say, the vote would change local laws so restaurants could qualify for beer-and-wine permits from the state, instead of a more costly permit for full liquor sales. Voters first gave restaurants the OK to sell alcohol in 2007, so long as more than 51 percent of their profits came from food.
Gerald Sherrill, the owner of Railroad Bar-B-Que in Kyle, said he got a liquor license from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission when the laws changed a few years ago, but he decided not to renew his license after the first year.
“We were literally losing money,” he said. “I gave it a shot, but after that one year I said you know what, this is just not worth it. I’m paying TABC more than I can make in a year.”
Today Sherrill’s customers may bring their own beer to wash down the brisket and sausage. That arrangement could be changing soon, though.
“If they were to put this on the ballot and say yes you can just get a beer license, I would have a beer-and-wine license in a heartbeat,” he said. “(Customers) could have a beer or two with their barbecue and be done, and I wouldn’t have to sell a ton of beer for it to be worth it.”
The measure will be on the Kyle ballot in May and the Buda ballot in November, so long as a political action committee called Better Business for Hays submits the signatures it has gathered to the Hays County Elections Administration office by Jan. 6.
Buda voters will also decide whether to allow liquor stores in their city.
Under current law, Kyle and Buda allow alcohol sales at gas stations and grocery stores, and Kyle allows liquor stores while Buda does not. Restaurants may serve alcohol so long as more than half of their income is derived from food.
But restaurants in Kyle and Buda are not eligible for a $903 beer-and-wine retailer’s permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, according to TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck. Instead, Kyle-Buda restauranteurs must purchase a mixed beverage permit for $6,602 in addition to a food-and-beverage certificate for $776.
Paul Rutowski is one of those restauranteurs who wishes he could qualify for a cheaper beer-and-wine permit.
“I’m in big favor of it,” said Rutowski, general manager of ViUDA Bistro in downtown Buda. “BYOB is good for some people but that is a loss of revenue for me.”
Better Business for Hays treasurer Laurie Cromwell said the group has raised about 60 percent of its $40,000 goal to fund the petition drive while also raising 50 percent of its goal to fund the election campaigns.
The group has led two previous successful drives to relax liquor laws in Kyle and Buda. If those earlier campaigns are any indication, Better Business for Hays will have no trouble raising funds from interested parties.
Better Business for Hays has reported thousands of dollars in contributions over the years, including $10,000 from the Texas Restaurant Association in 2004; $19,000 from Brookshire Brothers, a Lufkin-based grocery chain, in 2007; more than $30,000 from the California-based developer of the Belterra subdivision in Dripping Springs in 2005; and hundreds of dollars here and there from local and regional interests, according to campaign finance reports.
WES FERGUSON is editor of the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.