Ending prohibition of wine and liquor in ForestBy DUSTIN WHITLOCK,
The permitting of wine and liquor sales in Forest faces the uphill challenge that entails first gathering and certifying 798 registered voter signatures on a petition. And then, within 60 days of delivering the petition, those in favor must turn out voters to actually pass the measure.
If Forest were to successfully pass a ballot allowing wine and liquor to be sold in the city, it does not automatically mean that the wine and liquor will be a success in the city. There are multiple issues below the surface that could impinge the whole quest for modernization and liberation of Forest’s potential to have a night-economy.
The city of Forest holds a regulation that says beer must not be over 4 percent alcohol by weight. The state allows for breweries to sell craft beer with up to 8 percent alcohol by weight. The city needs to lift its restrictions to keep Forest competitive within the state.
The city needs to be friendly to bars and restaurant’s wishing to sell wine and mixed drinks. Bars need to be permitted to serve exclusively beer (while hosting musical entertainment or games). Currently, in Forest, a bar must generate 50 percent of its revenue (not to be confused with profit) from food. There is no reason that beer-only bars should not exist.
In order to serve food, one must pass additional checkpoints in order to open for business. A local business owner may desire to open a bar and turn it into an eatery in the future, but must first get off the ground. Allowing bars that do not serve food will enable new bars to find their footing before expanding into the territory of liquor licensing, kitchen maintenance, larger staffs, and food quality.
As per the state mandate, any dining establishment or bar serving wine or liquor must generate a minimum of 25 percent of their revenue from food. Forest needs to leave the revenue ratio for liquor and wine at the state’s minimum level so not to discourage potential eateries from opening in Forest. With wine and mixed drinks comes the real dining traffic. If an establishment is going to bring in the customers to eat; it will be for the wine and liquor that accompany the food. Every weekend that people in Scott County leave to go to Flowood or elsewhere to eat and have a glass of wine; it is money and employment opportunities that Forest is not getting.
People want to eat a steak and have a glass of red wine; to have some sake with their sushi; or have a margarita with a fajita.
Eateries with wine and liquor, and any potential bars serving only beer; will require another change in Forest for success. Bars are not going to pack downtown on the weekends if they cannot stay open until 2 a.m. The current city mandate forces bars to close by midnight.
Forest cannot have a night life if it will not allow businesses to operate for the full night. The night life in Hattiesburg would be strangled under the regulations seen in Forest. Hattiesburg has a robust downtown with a wood-fired brick oven pizzeria, craft beer bars, jazz bars, rock and dance music venues, and the historic Saenger Theater. If you are reading this and thinking, “Hattiesburg is a big town,” you are not seeing where Forest can go in the future.
In my opinion, any suppositional petition created in the future to permit Forest wine and liquor should also stipulate that the city council vote on the nuance issues. The petition is required by law to trigger a ballot vote on wine and liquor, but the citizens should take advantage of the opportunity to voice awareness and interest in changes to local regulations.
If citizens do not interact and communicate with the city council; the alderpersons and mayor cannot gauge what their voters want.