If some Benson-area business owners have their way, Johnston County voters will decide on a countywide alcohol sales referendum this Fall.
Jeremy Norris, the owner of Broadslab Distillery, and Jason Ashworth, owner of Mac’s General Merchandise, asked Johnston County Commissioners on Monday to place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to allow residents to decide on beer and wine sales in unincorporated areas.
Currently only the Cleveland and Wilders Townships allow stores to sell beer and wine. Some convenience stores in other townships can also sell beer and wine if they have an attached restaurant with 30 percent of their sales in food.
However, the majority of businesses, like Mac’s General Merchandise, a full-line grocery store on Highway 242 South of Benson, don’t operate a restaurant. Ashworth said people are bypassing his business to drive 6 miles into Benson to buy their groceries at stores that sell beer. Ashworth said he has seen the trend increase over the last 10 to 15 years and he is losing sales. He said being able to sell beer would be a benefit to him and his customers.
Commissioner Allen Mims Jr. of Clayton called the issue Ashworth was facing “ridiculous” and said he was more than willing to place the referendum before voters.
Commissioner Chad Stewart of Four Oaks said he has received numerous phone calls from entertainment venues where people are allowed to bring in coolers filled with alcohol, but the venues cannot sell alcohol to the individuals. By selling alcohol, Stewart said, the venues believe they can better control how much someone may consume.
Johnston County Attorney Jennifer J. Slusser said the County needs 120 days notice prior to an election to have ample time to place the issue on the ballot.
Commissioner DeVan Barbour of Benson suggested a public hearing could held to allow citizens to weigh in on a referendum. While Slusser said a public hearing was not required by law, commissioners could still hold one if they wished.
Chairman Tony Braswell agreed with Commissioner Barbour to hold a public hearing on a potential countywide alcohol sales referendum. The hearing will take place at the commissioners April 4th monthly meeting.
Alcohol Sales Rejected In 1997
This is not the first time Johnston County residents have voted on the measure.
On May 6, 1997 voters narrowly approved a mixed beverage referendum, 6175 to 6074, while rejecting a malt beverage referendum 6165 to 6080.
The Town of Archer Lodge is also seeking to place a referendum on the November ballot to allow alcohol sales in their city limits. The County informed Archer Lodge this month they can petition the Board of Elections directly for the referendum and do not need approval from County Commissioners.