After more than a year of antics from presidential candidates, many North Texans may feel like they could use a stiff drink.
And on Nov. 8, voters in several Tarrant County cities will get a chance to decide whether they’ll be able to buy packaged liquor nearer to their homes.
Propositions seeking approval for the sale of hard liquor will appear on ballots in Grapevine, Roanoke, far north Fort Worth, Haltom City, Hurst and Watauga.
In some areas, many voters and even elected officials may be unaware that the questions will be on the ballot after political action committees founded by liquor store retailers quietly led petition drives in recent months to gather signatures.
The Grapevine proposal, to be known as Proposition 1 on the ballot, is particularly interesting because that city bills itself as the Wine Capital of Texas. Many locally-owned wineries operate in the city, and offer tasting rooms that are popular among tourists.
Prominent citizens such as long-time Mayor William D. Tate are speaking out against the measure to allow the sale of hard spirits. Tate cited the need to protect the city’s wine industry in an open letter to residents asking them to vote “no” on packaged liquor sales.
But he also warned about what he believes is a danger to the city’s quaintness.
“These liquor stores will forever change the family-friendly dynamic of Grapevine and its historic downtown,” Tate wrote in the letter, which was released this week. “They will make our schools and our children less safe, they will hurt local businesses, they will increase crime, and they will erode our tax base.”
Beer has been legally sold since the early 1970s in Grapevine, and wine sales were legalized in 1993. However, stores cannot sell whiskey, tequila, gin or other hard liquors by the bottle. But in recent years, liquor sales have been approved in nearby towns including Colleyville.
The item was placed on the Grapevine ballot after a political action committee known as Grapevine Citizens for Total Wine & More PAC submitted a petition to the city May 27 containing 5,339 signatures.
Total Wine & More is one of the largest liquor retailers in the United States, which in recent years has expanded into the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
The Maryland-based company is already scouting locations in the Grapevine area, said spokesman Edward Cooper.
“We have a number of customers in the Metroplex and we listened to our customers — including in and all around Grapevine — and our customers said they wanted to have a store close to them,” he said.
Residents of Roanoke, on the border of Tarrant and Denton counties, are being asked to legalize the sale of all alcoholic drinks, including mixed beverages. Voters in 2010 legalized the sale of packaged liquor in their town, over the objections of local elected leaders.
The measure would eliminate a regulation currently in place in Roanoke, in which a business selling hard liquor such as a restaurant must make at least 51 percent of its revenue from food sales, city manager Scott Campbell said.
“If the ballot measure in November is approved by voters, it will make available a permit that would not be subject to this food-to-alcohol sales ratio,” he said.
And residents of Tarrant County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 — a vast area that includes a large swath of far north Fort Worth, Haltom City, Hurst and Richland Hills — will be asked to approve packaged liquor sales. That measure is supported by another PAC, J.P. 1 Citizens for Total Wine & More.
Because that election is being held in a county precinct, if it passes, a liquor retailer will then be able to open a store without first getting approval from each city council, said Frank Phillips, Tarrant County election administrator.
However, liquor stores would have to conform to whatever zoning and permitting ordinances are in place in each city.
Phillips acknowledged that many voters might be unaware that a ballot proposition seeking approval for liquor sales doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to one city at a time, and can instead be decided on a county-wide or even a county precinct basis.
Some areas of Precinct 1 that already allow liquor sales won’t be affected by the vote. For example, packaged liquor is already sold in much of Fort Worth. But if the item passes in Precinct 1, areas of Fort Worth such as the Park Glen neighborhood, where hard liquor isn’t currently sold, could see the opening of liquor stores.
Currently, for many residents of far north Fort Worth and other cities in Northeast Tarrant County, the purchase of a bottle of brandy, Jagermeister or some other high-alcohol potion often requires a trip to the Loop 820/Blue Mound Road area where liquor stores can be found, or to Colleyville.
Also, in some cities such as Hurst and North Richland Hills, which are only partly in Precinct 1, some voters will have the liquor questions on their ballot while others will not.
Some area residents say the issue of liquor sales may sneak up on voters. Such local issues tend to become overshadowed by national issues during presidential elections, especially during campaigns in which candidates such as Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton have captivated the citizenry.
“It has been kind of hush-hush,” said Lynda Hawkins, owner of Waffle Way, a popular breakfast spot in Grapevine. To draw attention to the liquor sale issue in her city, Hawkins recently allowed a group opposing the measure to put a sign in front of her restaurant urging voters to say no.
“It’s not about whether you like to have a drink every now and then,” she said. “It’s about how the state law allows the liquor stores to open wherever they want. I don’t like that. The city ought to be able to control it.”
A decade or two ago, many cities in Northeast Tarrant County were “dry” — meaning alcohol wasn’t sold. But in recent years, many of those rules have been relaxed. Nearly all areas now allow restaurants to serve beer, wine and mixed drinks, and allow convenience stores, grocers and other retailers to sell beer and wine.
But the sale of stronger, bottled booze is new to many of the areas.
Staff Writer Marty Sabota contributed to this report.