In an issue divisive enough that six local residents addressed Dothan leadership Tuesday, commission members were equally split about the expansion of Sunday alcohol sales.
After a long discussion, commissioners voted 4-3 to expand Sunday alcohol sales at area restaurants by three hours. The ordinance, described by some as a brunch bill, allows local restaurants to sell alcohol beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays instead of 1 p.m. as previously established by the commission.
Four area residents, including three business owners, supported the maneuver while two opposed the measure on the basis of family values and community standards. Restaurant owner Kelsey Barnard Clark explained how much just a few extra hours of alcohol sales would benefit her business.
“When we’re not agreeing, let’s talk numbers. Numbers are black and white,” said Clark, proprietor of KBC in downtown Dothan. “We had $1,700 in beverage sales before 1 p.m. this past Saturday. Sixty percent of my profit margin is alcohol.”
Mike Bryan, owner of Southern Social, said his Saturday brunches have been successful and that his clientele wants the same option on Sundays.
“Eighty percent of our guests at Saturday brunch order an alcoholic beverage,” he said, noting Sunday brunches could result in an extra $150,000 in sales for his business. “We have new soldiers and more doctors coming in, and they’re constantly talking about Sunday brunch.”
The business owners said the extra revenue means more employees or the expansion of hours for current employees. Robin Thagard, owner of Bella’s, said more of her employees could become full-time workers with a Sunday brunch.
Jamie Bienvenu, Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority executive director, pointed out that the expansion of restaurant hours could encourage retail businesses to open on Sundays in downtown Dothan. That, in turn, could encourage more people to live in the downtown area – part of the vision cast in the U.S. Highway 84 East Corridor study released last year.
“I don’t want you to think of it as a mimosa on Sunday. I want you to think of it as a domino effect,” Bienvenu told commissioners. “If we want to have residential living, we need to be seven days a week. To get any national chain, we need seven days a week.”
In rebuttal to claims Dothan needs to pass the ordinance in an effort to keep up with cities like Ozark and Enterprise that have already done so, Memphis Baptist Church pastor Jim Tate posed a question.
“We’ve got fine dining and local favorites. Who are we competing with? Who are we competing for?” he posited. “What makes us great is focus on families. It makes us different and sets us apart. Think of 10 a.m. to 1 (p.m.) as family time.”
Local resident Jimmy McCord also opposed the bill based on family principles.
“(Dothan is) a great city today. I don’t see where serving alcohol for four more hours will make it greater,” he said. “I don’t see where it’s going to help our families.”
District 1 Commissioner Kevin Dorsey, District 2 Commissioner Janasky Fleming, Mayor Mark Saliba, and District 6 Commissioner David Crutchfield supported the ordinance. District 3 Commissioner Albert Kirkland, District 4 Commissioner John Ferguson, and District 5 Commissioner Beth Kenward dissented.
"I have a lot of respect for business owners, but I have more respect for keeping Sunday sacred," said Kenward, a business owner. "I felt (Sunday is) worth protecting. The hardest part is voting with convictions. You shouldn't be swayed by popular opinion when you're in leadership."
Crutchfield believes the economic benefits are clear.
“It’s supporting our business. I don’t particularly think I’m going to abandon my family just because I have the option to go to a brunch that has alcohol,” Crutchfield said. “I think it will give some businesses an opportunity to be open and keep their employees working.”