Those interested in purchasing beer at Main Street Deli had to wait until the late afternoon on Thursday.
A few hours in the day wasn’t too long to bear, however, considering the eight-decade wait to even have the possibility of buying alcohol.
Bill Hamilton, owner of Main Street Deli on North Main Street, became the first local businessman to legally sell beer in Somerset since the county opted to remain dry following the end of prohibition in 1933.
Hamilton received his Retail Malt Beverage license, allowing him to sell beer by the package, from the state on Wednesday, and his corresponding approval from the City of Somerset Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) office on Thursday.
Waiting on a shipment of beer to arrive from another city, Hamilton wasn’t able to start selling to the public until about 4:30 p.m. Thursday. Word had gotten out hours beforehand, however, and a massivecrowd showed up to be among the first to purchase beer in previously “dry” Somerset, with a full parking lot and congested traffic around the downtown convenience station.
The very first customer? None other than David Weddle, who launched the Progress Somerset organization that put the alcohol vote on the ballot this past June.
Despite multiple elections in the past which failed to result in a “wet” or “moist” Somerset — that is, allowing the sale of alcohol — this time, Somerset voters overwhelmingly chose to side with Weddle, by a margin of 2,176 for to 1,464 against.
Though Weddle enjoyed the privilege of being the first to taste the fruits of his efforts, he stressed a need to keep the issue in perspective.
“It’s not really about buying beer or alcohol, it’s really about the progress that we started, and the choice to be able to do it,” said Weddle. “I love the fact that a downtown community place like Main Street (Deli) is the first one on board. I think that show’s the city’s commitment to making sure we support local business.”
Of course, Weddle didn’t drink straight from a can and jump in his car, and noted the importance of imbibing responsibility, and not drinking and driving. Weddle even posted such a message on the Progress Somerset Facebook page on Thursday afternoon.
“When it is available, people are going to be overzealous, and buy a lot of beer just to make the point,” he said. “I want to emphasize that they’d better be careful and they need to be safe. I know the City of Somerset is really focused on making sure everybody abides by the law.”
Mayor Eddie Girdler echoed that sentiment, making a statement for his city on one of it’s most historic days.
“We’re just real pleased with the process we’ve used to implement the vote of the people,” said Girdler. “I think our citizens can be very confident that the future sales and all the activities will be strictly monitored and correctly enforced so we get the benefit of the sales and minimize or eliminate the problems associated with the alcohol industry.”
Hamilton said it’s “a good feeling” to be the first to sell alcohol in Pulaski County, and that he’s pleased to see the rewards of all the time and effort he’s put into changing his store (which includes a “beer cave” unit).
He added that he will not be selling on Sunday, as the store will be closed, just as it has been throughout his ownership.
Hamilton expected an economic boom — with a likely 1,000 cases sold per day, it could add up to $20,000 a year in profit, and that’s after accounting for the cost of paying for the extra employees (Hamilton is hiring at least two new workers to help handle the alcohol load).
“I think it’s going to provide some extra dollars for the City of Somerset,” said Hamilton. “We didn’t want to drop products to add products, so we added to our line; we’re offering more products, so obviously we’re going to make more on the bottom line.”
Weddle said he’s heard from people who have been “anxious” about when things are going to happen. With more stores set to receieve their licenses in coming days and weeks and start selling alcohol, it looks like Somerset’s populace is about to find out.
“I think it’s kind of like the election: There’s that quiet period,” said Weddle, “and now I think you’re going to see a lot of activity in the next couple weeks of a lot of different stores to open up.”
Those who stopped by Main Street Deli were happy to have the option of buying beer. Jeff Murphy walked out carrying a case of Coors. He said he’d only recently moved here from Nashville, a place where beer is in no short supply, and was grateful for the days events.
“I’m just really glad it’s here,” he said.
It would seem that 2,176 voters — and numerous local businesses who intend to sell alcohol — would agree.