ATLANTA — Retailers in several Georgia cities began ringing up beer, wine and liquor Sunday for the first time since voters in many communities statewide ended more than a century of banning alcohol sales on what many consider a day of worship.
“When you want it, you want it,” said Foster Saunders, who picked up an $18 bottle of red wine a week earlier in Winder, where Sunday booze sales began Nov. 13. “I just feel like it’s a basic right, a freedom, for somebody to be able to purchase something that’s legal Monday through Saturday.”
Other Georgia municipalities are catching up after voters less than two weeks ago approved Sunday alcohol sales in more than 100 local elections. State lawmakers opted to allow cities and counties to decide the issue for themselves. Governments in those that voted to end the once-a-week prohibition now must decide the date for sales to become legal.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that happened Sunday for at least 18 cities in Cherokee, Clayton, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
Keidra Dobbs, of Duluth, said she was “definitely excited” to be able to pick up some beer Sunday from a package store near her house before settling down to watch sports.
“It’s been kind of an inconvenience,” Dobbs said. “Like last week, when I had to rush to get to the store by 11:45 Saturday night before they stop selling.”
The Georgia Food Industry Association said 128 Georgia cities had a Sunday alcohol sales referendum on the ballot Nov. 8. The group says 105 won approval, though there were a handful of smaller communities such as Garden City near Savannah and Tunnel Hill in North Georgia that voted down the idea.
Many cities won’t start allowing Sunday sales until January. Kathy Kuzava of the Georgia Food Industry Association said the group is advising grocery stores to double-check with their local governments before ringing up any booze sales on Sunday.
Some cities are looking to charge retailers extra for the privilege to sell alcohol seven days a week. Auburn will require a $125 annual fee beginning in 2012. The city of Dunwoody will charge stores $1,100 per year once the change takes effect Dec. 4.
Overall the switch to Sunday sales won’t require much effort on the part of most supermarkets and convenience stores that are already used to being open that day. Liquor stores will have to make arrangements for staffing what used to be a mandatory day off.
Denny Young, who co-owns the Beer Growler store in Avondale Estates, said he doesn’t believe the Sunday sales vote was “all that historic.”
“It should have happened a long time ago, judging by the vote counts,” he said.
The statewide ban on Sunday alcohol sales was passed by the Legislature in 1937 after the prohibition was ended at the national and state levels. But many local governments outlawed Sunday sales even before Georgia launched its own prohibition of alcohol in 1908.
Paul Thompson, a history professor at North Greenville University in South Carolina, said he suspects Georgia’s ban on Sunday sales could go back as far as Colonial times. He’s researching a book about Atlanta’s temperance movement.
“My guess is this is the first time in Georgia’s history that this has ever been allowed,” Thompson said.