Issue of alcohol sales remains controversial

While some Bethel residents are sharply divided over the issue of alcohol sales in the village, only time will tell as to whether the measure will pass in the November general election. If approved by voters, the measure will allow sales in a small portion of the village where the grocery store and most of the gas stations are located. Supporter Russ Whitley said that the goal is to stop what he calls an economic drain on the village.

“If people go two or three miles any direction out of town, they can spend their money on alcohol,” said Whitley. “The main thing is that revenue that Bethel is losing. I don’t drink, so it makes no difference to me to have the alcohol. It’s not illegal to have the alcohol, just to sell it. Half the refrigerators in the village probably have beer in it.”

The issue, however, has not gone without criticism from local groups, notably churches, who fear what bringing alcohol into the village could result in. However, despite the controversy, it is unclear as to how many people actually support or oppose the measure.

“From what I hear, there are a number of groups and people of interest going around getting signatures for this,” said Bethel Administrator Michael Shiverski. “I have not heard (an official village position) so I am not spreading one.”

Bethel Police Chief John Wallace said that, should Bethel residents choose to allow alcohol sales in the village, he doesn’t expect there to be any major safety threat to the village or village residents.

“From a law enforcement perspective, it won’t change what we do at all,” said Chief Wallace. “The only thing that will take place is the department of liquor control will do underage stings where they send someone underage to buy and see if they get carded. That would be the only thing that impacts us, and they typically give grants to reimburse local agencies for that.”

“We have all of the alcohol related offenses of someplace that is wet,” added Chief Wallace. “We don’t have it any more or less, and I don’t see it increasing, because within 10 miles from town center, one can go to a bar or store that sells alcohol.”

And that, said Whitley, is precisely the problem.

“I don’t want a bar on every corner, that’s not the thing,” said Whitley. “I went for that one precinct because it has our grocery store and filling stations. I think that would be beneficial. I don’t want somebody to start sticking bars all over. You can go any direction and by alcohol. The revenue is going four directions, and Bethel could use the revenue.”

Whitley claimed that the lack of alcohol sales in the village has sabotaged interest by steak houses to build in the village and keeps land from being annexed by the village. Plus, the money lost to local businesses because customers go elsewhere to buy groceries or gas has also hindered economic development in the village. Rosalie Munafo, owner and manager of the Jubilee grocery store in Bethel, however, said that her business isn’t concerned about alcohol sales, and would only consider selling it if they had to.

“We probably would, but the only reason why would be because we’d be forced into it,” said Munafo. “I let the voters decide what they want in the community. We always rely on customer comments to know what they want in our store.”

Whitley, however, said that making alcohol sales available close to home can help prevent accidents, such as drunk driving incidents where people may decide not to wait until they get home to drink.

“If you take an alcoholic, he may stop and get a 12 pack on the way home,” said Whitley. “He may drink it and decide he needs more, so he jumps in the car and takes off. He may end up hitting somebody. If it was local, he could just go to the corner store. A lot of people go to Krogers because they want one-stop shopping, and if they want beer, they go there instead of our local stores.”

Chief Wallace agreed that, when it comes to alcohol related problems, the village already has its share, which he doesn’t believe will increase with sales.

“We have our domestic disturbances where people have been drinking,” said Chief Wallace. “We have DUIs. This is a dry township. It stands to reason that the law isn’t preventing anything but the economic development of the area. I’m not saying that to pass it would cause a lot of development. It may remove another obstacle though.”