Clayton News-Star

Alcohol could return to ballot

Clayton Beverage Co. owner Steven Grantham pours a beer at his bottle shop and tasting bar in Clayton.
Clayton Beverage Co. owner Steven Grantham pours a beer at his bottle shop and tasting bar in Clayton. FILE PHOTO

Wording in an alcohol vote nearly 18 years ago is forcing a Clayton bottle shop to pay more to serve a pint of beer.

In a successful 1997 referendum, town voters said on-premise beer drinking could take place only in hotels, motels and restaurants.

Other businesses that want to open taps can do so, but they first have to buy a more expensive license from the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. That’s because a countywide referendum, also held in 1997, allows the sale of mixed beverages in restaurants and private clubs. State statutes say any business with a mixed-beverage permit can also seek on-premise drinking permits, regardless of what towns have approved.

Clayton Beverage Co., which sells bottled craft beer, opened in 2013 and initially used a $400 permit to sell beer by the glass from its tasting bar. Store owner Steven Grantham said he ran the shop for almost a year before the ABC Commission told him he technically wasn’t in compliance and that he’d have to also buy the $1,000 private club permit.

“It kind of sucked to have that unexpected expense after doing it a year,” Grantham said.

Because the bottle shop, in Clayton Corners shopping center, got its mixed-beverage permit as a private club, the store has to issue memberships and keep a roster of customers on file.

Grantham said dozens of bottle shops throughout the Triangle operate like his but have fewer hoops to jump through. For instance, 42 Craft Beverage in Johnston’s Cleveland community needs only the $400 permit because on-premise beer drinking isn’t restricted to hotels, motels and restaurants in Cleveland Township.

“It’s good to have some craft beer stores in town and give people a chance to drink better beer without having to go all the way to Raleigh,” Grantham said. “That’s what I had to do for about seven years.”

Grantham contacted Town of Clayton staff, who shared his situation with the Clayton Town Council in February. The council, which has the power to call for another alcohol referendum, is expected to discuss the matter at its upcoming retreat.

“Our concern is as the industry that revolves around the preparation and distribution of alcohol has changed that our initial referendum is becoming outdated,” Town Manager Steve Biggs said at the February meeting.

Councilman Butch Lawter said he’s OK with letting residents vote again, so long as it doesn’t cost the town anything. He said the referendum could go on the November municipal election ballot.

“It seems like those types of businesses are popping up all over the place,” Lawter said. “If it brings more business to Clayton, I’m for it.”

Biggs said the craft-beer industry could breathe new life into older Clayton buildings. The industry, he said. “is soon to become potentially a very good entry into some of these more innovative types of re-uses,” he said.

About 60 percent of voters approved the 1997 Clayton referendum, which drew opposition from religious groups, several teachers and other concerned citizens. Opponents feared the changes would lead to an increase in drunk drivers and alcohol abuse, among other things.

At the February council meeting, Mayor Jody McLeod reminded people the last referendum was a long time ago. “There’s a lot of water under the bridge,” he said.

Deep River Brewing, which operates a brewery and tasting room on Main Street in the town limits, does not serve food. However, the brewery hasn’t run into the same problem as the bottle shop, Biggs said, because state statutes allow breweries to operate on-site tasting rooms.

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104