Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Que had been closed for 30 minutes by the time Melissa Windham pulled into its parking lot. She and her friend were not looking for a chopped beef sandwich or ribs. They were looking to sign a petition to bring beer and wine sales to Tyler.
“I'm from Louisiana and excited y'all are trying to get alcohol here,” she said, upon hearing she could come in and sign up.
A petition drive to bring beer and wine sales to Tyler and Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 began Wednesday morning downtown at T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza. The political action committee “Buy Local First!” began gathering signatures to bring four local option beverage proposals to Smith County voters in November.
Ms. Windham, a registered nurse who now lives in JP Precinct 2, said she had lived in Tyler since July 2011 and that it was “weird” she couldn't go into a store to buy wine around the city.
In Tyler, petitions to bring the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption and expansion of mixed beverage sales by restaurants, which passed in 2008, will circulate.
Registered voters who live within the overlapping portions of JP Precinct 2 and the city limits of Tyler can sign all four petitions.
Off premise consumption means a person can walk into a grocery or convenience store and buy beer or wine to take home.
Portions of Tyler, Flint, Noonday and Bullard within or surrounded by JP Precinct 2 will become wet if the proposal passes there, said Tyler's Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission Agent Shane Krajewski.
Petition gatherers will ask for signatures outside 10 local businesses. The locations include Cici's Pizza, 211 N. Northwest Loop 323 and 1938 E. Southeast Loop 323; Stanley's BBQ, 525 S. Beckham Ave.; Walgreens, 5415 S. Broadway Ave., 2120 E. Southeast Loop 323; 110 S. Southwest Loop 323 and 1620 S. Broadway Ave. and Wal-Mart, 5050 Troup Highway, 6801 S. Broadway Ave. and 3820 Texas Highway 64 in Tyler.
Businessman Brian Tuttle was first in line Wednesday morning to sign the petition to bring beer and wine to Tyler.
He said he had served on the Chamber of Commerce for years and that beverage sales will bring more business development to the city.
“There is an attitude now that what is best for Tyler is giving it the best opportunity for growth,” he said.
“Sensible sales of alcohol should be allowed. It's an economic issue. We want Tyler to grow and prosper.”
Attorney Blake Bailey, a committee member, referred to Smith County's reputation as the “wettest, dry county in the state,” because of the volume of alcohol purchased at restaurants, bars and outside the county but consumed here, as a clear reason why to bring alcohol to Tyler and JP Precinct 2.
If the petition makes it to November ballots, Bailey said it has the best chance to pass that he has ever seen because “people of influence” in the community are coming out in support.
Winona, Troup, Alba, Jacksonville, Athens, Henderson, Rusk and Mineola voted in recent years to allow beer and wine sales for off-premise consumption.
Residents from Smith County's Precinct 4, Arp, Bullard, Whitehouse, Lindale, Brownsboro, Murchison and Hawkins opposed the measure.
Committee chairman Bob Westbrook, owner of Cici's Pizza in Tyler, said the campaign will focus on economic growth, be it sales tax or jobs and increased safety (because numbers show reducing drive times reduces accidents and DWIs).
He said he feels confident, based on the initial community response, the proposals have a good chance this time.
People are spending money on alcohol outside the county and that those dollars should be brought back to local businesses for the local tax base, he said.
“We're going to present the facts and we feel confident the numbers will show what passage will do for the local economy,” he said. “It's up to the citizens to decide the fate of this issue.”
Updated Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 11:24 a.m.CDT