By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
MARION – Alcohol opponents said goodbye this week to one aspect of their town that made it family-friendly, as voters approved beer and wine sales and liquor by the drink by a 6 percent margin on June 24.
But even as a handful of restaurants began filing paperwork for alcohol permits, leaders of Citizens for Faith and Family Values said they are proud of their group’s efforts and also pleased to have forged new relationships among churches and between the spiritual and business communities.
“I do think that, even though it didn’t go our way, that overall there will be good to come out of it,” said the Rev. Eric Grindstaff, pastor of Chapel Hill Baptist. “I have made some new Christian friends that I had not known before. The churches have united. And some of the people on the opposite side have been respectful of our position and we’ve been able to have some good conversations.”
Citizens for Faith and Family Values sponsored a June 8 rally which attracted more than 770 people. The organization mailed out brochures and purchased newspaper and radio ads to help educate voters.
Although the issue became very contentious with one alcohol opponent being assaulted and leaders on both sides reporting damage to signs, one positive result of the intense interest was record voter turnout for a primary run-off. More than 900 of Marion’s 4,008 voters cast ballots.
As for why more of them didn’t vote to keep Marion dry, Grindstaff said he believes a lot of residents bought into alcohol proponents’ promises of economic gain.
“The idea that this is going to benefit the economy in Marion really won the day,” Grindstaff said. “The local newspaper had a huge front-page article on the Friday before the vote about a guy who owns a bar and inn near the Parkway (Gary Jensen, owner of the Switzerland Inn at little Switzerland) who said he would provide 25 jobs and invest a million dollars in Marion if liquor by the drink passed. That was part of what happened.”
While he is doubtful that the vote will bring a huge influx of chain restaurants to Marion, he does believe those businesses that united against alcohol will see increased patronage from those looking for a family friendly environment.
“I was very proud of our restaurant and business people. There were 43 businesses in Marion that joined together and paid for three half-page ads expressing their opposition to alcohol sales,” he said. “We will surely support these people who stood with us.”