Local business petitions against anti-liquor ordinance

By Karina Brisack
Tribune Staff

Cisco Salsa Company (CSC) has recently become the face of a petition making its way through Tomball to repeal a 1944 ordinance banning beverages with an alcohol concentration higher than 14% in old town Tomball. CSC hopes to get 1,000 signatures on the petition from registered Tomball voters by July 15. Completing this goal will allow a ballot measure regarding the issue to be considered during the upcoming November election.

As it stands now, all businesses within the eight-block area that used to constitute the entirety of the city are not allowed to serve popular liquors like whiskey, vodka and tequila without special licenses.

“For us to serve a margarita, we had to get a private club license,” said Laura Wilson, owner of CSC and head organizer of the movement to repeal the 1944 dry ordinance. “Those are usually the ones you have to get up in Dallas or in outskirting areas, to be able to be served a drink in a dry area. So we thought that we would go ahead and start with that and see how difficult that process was, and as we’ve grown and as we’ve gotten busier, it’s become extremely difficult and extremely expensive.”

Maintaining a private club is difficult work for the restaurant. Each patron who comes in wanting to buy distilled spirits has to fill out a form, have their ID card scanned into the system and be formally added to the club. Since membership is limited to a certain number of people, CSC takes them off the list three days after they register. Even if they come back within that time period, they have to present their driver’s license and have it scanned again to validate their membership.

In addition to the inconvenience to patrons, CSC has to pay a number of fees to comply with the regulations that come along with a private club license. The license itself costs about $6,000 every two years and each membership that is added to the club costs the restaurant six dollars, often effectively negating the profits earned by the sale of the drinks.

Meanwhile, restaurants only a few blocks away are able to sell the same beverages with much less restrictive licensing policies that don’t involve giving customers paperwork. The convenience of drinking at these other establishments rather than the ones regulated under the dry ordinance draws customers away from old town. Repealing this ordinance, claims Wilson, would allow all Tomball establishments to operate – and compete – under the same rules and obligations.

The dry ordinance, argue its opponents, is the product of a different time with different needs. It is hard to disagree. The original 1944 ordinance was voted on by only 119 citizens and passed with 93 votes. At the time, Tomball was a small railroad town hoping to tone down some of the more rowdy elements of the area. However, over the last 70 years the saloons and bar fights of the past have given way to cantinas and karaoke, making the ordinance seem in-creasingly disconnected from the current business environment.

The Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce (GTACC) has come out in official support of the grassroots movement, having assisted CSC in disseminating  petition information.

“The Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors voted to support the repeal of the 1944 City of Tomball Ordinance that banned any liquor above 14% alcohol content,” said Brandy Beyer, the Chamber’s media liaison. “This change will level the playing field for businesses in ‘Old Town’ Tomball and the rest of the city.”

The Chamber’s support is unsurprising. It is a pro-business organization after all, and bringing more traffic into restaurants means bringing more traffic into other businesses as well.

“Restaurants bring businesses into areas. We have about a thousand customers who come through our doors and they come in with shopping bags from all over this whole area,” says Wilson emphatically. “It’s a major driver of economy.”

Wilson is confident that once the public is informed about the dry ordinance, they will be very friendly to the idea of repealing it. She, along with a group of volunteers, is conducting a door-to-door campaign to raise awareness of the petition and convince voters to sign on. The response, she says, has been overwhelmingly positive thus far. According to her, upwards of 90% of the voters that have been approached with the petition have been willing to sign it.

As a result of the first of several “block walk” events that Wilson has organized, the petition has reached 118 signatures (as of press time), constituting about 12 percent of the total signatures needed to submit a ballot measure for the next election. It’s an impressive showing considering that it comes from only one day of knocking on doors. However, there is still much more work to do.

“(The week of July 7) is gonna be a really heavy one. We’re really going to need the volunteers,” emphasized Wilson.

Registered voters living within the Tomball city limits can add their names to the petition by visiting Cisco Salsa Company at 209 Commerce St. or the GTACC at 29201 Quinn Rd. For more information or to volunteer, call CSC at 281-351-7572.