Residents in the historic coal town of Benham voted by a wide margin Tuesday to allow alcohol sales at the School House Inn, which many saw as a way to help keep the motel in operation.
The tally was 74 in favor of alcohol sales and 15 against, according to Harlan County Clerk Donna Hoskins’ office.
The vote will allow the inn to sell alcohol at events such as school reunions and in the restaurant.
The inn was created by converting classrooms to lodging in a building constructed in the 1920s as the high school in a town that was wholly owned by International Harvester.
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There are photos on the walls of mining, the school and the town, and the inn overlooks downtown Benham, where several buildings remain from the early days of the town.
The county owns the inn.
Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College had subsidized the inn for several years, but notified the county earlier this year it would end that arrangement, creating some concern about keeping it in operation.
Local officials worked out a lease for Travis Warf, a Harlan County native who has a transportation and logistics company in Richmond, to operate the inn.
Warf said he was committed to trying to improve profitability at the inn and keep it going even if local residents had rejected alcohol sales.
“I know that with alcohol sales, that will be a boost,” however, Warf said Wednesday.
Warf said be believes the inn can turn a profit with careful management.