RED SPRINGS — As the town heads towards a liquor-by-the-drink referendum in November, opinions seem to be consolidating that it will be good for the town and for business.
In conversations with town leaders and people on the street Saturday, they mostly agree that serving mixed drinks may attract new restaurants, improve the downtown and improve the quality of life in Red Springs.
“Who wants to drive a long way to have a nice dinner?” said Trent Locklear, a Red Springs native and downtown businessman. “Anything that gets people back downtown is a good thing.”
Town Manager David Ashburn is pushing the referendum, saying it can help with the local economy and promote more responsible drinking. The town commissioners voted last week to let the voters decide.
In Howard’s Barbershop on Main Street, owner Chris Sinclair was busy on a warm Saturday afternoon.
“I think it will really work in Red Springs, and it may draw a restaurant to the downtown,” Sinclair said. “Right now, there is nowhere to go except Fayetteville.”
Red Springs lacks an upscale restaurant. Restaurant owners and operators agree that alcohol sales are money makers and essential to operating a restaurant.
Red Springs was one of the first towns in Robeson County to sell beer and wine at retail stores, and in the 1970s was a destination point for residents across the county seeing to make a purchase. Bootleggers were another option.
But it is behind on alcohol in restaurants. Fairmont, Lumberton, Maxton, Pembroke, Rowland and St. Pauls all have some form of alcohol sales in local restaurants, with all but St. Pauls offering mixed drinks.
Carlos Conteras, who owns Taqueria Leon on Main Street, gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.
“It will help business,” he said.
What is being said on the streets is what town leaders want to hear.
“We voted to put it on the ballot and let the citizens decide,” said Mayor Charles Henderson. “If you don’t want an alcoholic beverage, don’t order one.”
Ashburn believes it makes good economic sense as well as improving the quality of life in the town.
“We’ve had two inquiries from Ruby Tuesday,” Ashburn said. “We have someone looking into a bed and breakfast and that would be important.”
There was some debate about whether voters would have two separate ballot choices — beer and wine and liquor by the drink — but Ashburn was advised by Town Attorney Neil Yarborough that there would be only one box to check on the ballot.
“It will be a stepping stone to getting a sit-down restaurant,” Henderson said. “It will be good for the town.”
“We’re trying to build and grow this town,” Ashburn said. “As a former policeman and emergency medical technician, this will improve town safety.”
Ashburn said he worries about people who drive long distances, perhaps to Lumberton or Fayetteville, and then drive home after consuming alcohol.
”It’s safer to drive half a mile home,” he said.
Mayor Henderson said he has heard some negativity, but the vote is on. The commissioners chose the November election because there will be a large turnout.
“We’re not trying to hide,” Ashburn said. “Alcohol is already here. We’re actually putting more controls on it.”
In the Food Lion parking lot, Pete Turner said he does not drink, and he had not heard about the vote in November.
“We have had a hard time with good restaurants in Red Springs,” Turner said. “Who knows whether it will be good for the town or not.”
In the barber shop, Alvin Patterson was getting a haircut from Cam Sinclair, Chris’ son. He is pretty sure it will help the town, which has struggled keeping or recruiting industry and keeping a thriving downtown.
“I think it will bring people downtown,” Patterson said.
At the ABC store, there were no worries.
“I like it, but if you want a drink, you come here,” said Michael Clark, a customer.
“It would be nice to have a good restaurant in Red Springs,” said ABC clerk Michael Locklear said. “It’s what Red Springs needs.
“No, it won’t take any business away from us,” he said.
It might help business: State law requires any liquor sold by restaurants to be purchased locally.
Asked why it has taken so long for Red Strings, Mayor Henderson said, “I don’t know.”
Staff writer Scott Bigelow can be reached at 910-644-4497 or [email protected]