The city council has authorized the wet-dry election for November, and now the fun begins. Don’t expect any organized campaign to defeat the vote. The people I’ve talked to on the dry side think they have a better chance of preventing the election than they do of winning it.
Our Q and A about the election explains what we’ll be voting on, and the specifics of the two proposals that will be on the ballot — to allow retail sales of beer and wine throughout the city, and to eliminate the private club/restaurant law.
So we’ll see a concerted legal effort to stop the referendum, courtesy of the city’s independent beer and wine retailers. They’re the real opposition to this, because they like the system the way it is now. Change, even if they could adapt to it, would be costly and difficult in the best of times. And the past 18 months have not been the best of times for the liquor business. I’ve been told by several people with intimate knowledge of the Dallas retail liquor business that at least one of Dallas’ independent retailers could fold if the private club provision passes. Under the private club law, restaurants in dry areas must buy their alcohol from retailers. This revenue is a key part of many retailers’ business, and if it goes away, they’ll suffer financially.
And don’t underestimate what can be done in court. Texas’ liquor laws are not necessarily any more odd than elsewhere in the country, but they are arcane and byzantine. A good lawyer, and the retailers’ Andy Siegel is among the best, can work magic with its intricacies. Please note that I am not related to Siegel, and I am also not related in way to the Sigel liquor chain.
In addition, we’ll see a push from parts of Oak Cliff and South Dallas to turn out enough voters to beat the referendum. Alcohol sales have been a key issue there for 20 years, something few people outside of those neighborhoods understand, and even fewer care about. Make no mistake about this — Kroger and Walmart, which paid for the petition drive, have very little interest in what happens south of the Trinity. Walmart (but not Sam’s or the grocery stores) has eight locations in Dallas; two are south of the Trinity. Kroger has five stores in the city and is building a sixth; one is south of the Trinity.
The question, of course, will be whether enough people will vote in Oak Cliff and South Dallas to offset the turnout in Preston Hollow and Far North Dallas. Typically, few people in those neighborhoods vote. Just 4,000 people voted in Councilman Dwaine Carraway’s district in 2009 in a contested election, while 5,000 voted for Ron Natinsky in Far North Dallas, and he was running unopposed. I’ve been told alcohol is an important enough issue to bring voters out, but I won’t believe that until I see it.
So what happens in November? If there’s a vote, expect the private club provision to pass easily. It’s much less clear about retail beer and wine sales. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it pass. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see it lose, either.