Winchester, Clark County debate whether to allow Sunday alcohol sales

Patrons enjoyed beer at Blue Stallion Brewing on July 19 in Lexington.
Patrons enjoyed beer at Blue Stallion Brewing on July 19 in Lexington. Herald-Leader

The hot topic lately in Winchester and Clark County is whether restaurants should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays.

Alcohol is already sold in restaurants Monday through Saturday in the city limits of Winchester and in two precincts in Clark County, but to expand sales to Sunday would require amendments to existing ordinances.

Proponents say Sunday sales are necessary if the community wishes to keep dollars from siphoning to Lexington, Richmond and Mount Sterling, where diners can have something stronger than root beer with their meal any day of the week.

Among the proponents is Jim Brady, who operates a Clark County restaurant called Brady's @ Southwind Golf Course. His previous restaurant in Winchester, Brady's Hometown Grill, went out of business in part because it lost Sunday clientele to neighboring cities, he said.

"I can go to almost any restaurant in Lexington on a Sunday, and I'll run into people from Clark County," Brady said. "You don't have to ask — you can look at their table and see why they're there. One day I was over there and I ran into one of our (deputy) sheriffs. And he says. 'Well, you know, I wanted a beer.'"

In April, a petition touting Sunday alcohol sales and signed by 17 local restaurateurs was presented to a joint meeting of the Winchester City Commission and Clark County Fiscal Court.

Gardner Wagers, a retired attorney and former county judge-executive, organized the petition drive.

"The first thing you hear when you're out in the public is, 'Why can't we get new restaurants in Winchester?' Wagers said. "So when you talk to developers, the first thing they say is, 'No chain restaurant wants to come to Winchester unless Winchester has alcohol sales on Sunday.' They want to make the most profit, and they make more money from alcohol than they do food."

Local governments will soon address the issue.

The Winchester City Commission will decide Tuesday night whether to pursue Sunday sales. If the commission votes to go forward, it will direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance, and the first reading of that ordinance would be Aug. 20. The second reading and final passage would be Sept. 10.

Winchester Mayor Ed Burtner said he is undecided on how he'll vote. "I'll make that known Tuesday night," he said.

But he said some 90 people attended a public forum in July in which about 20 speakers addressed the issue's pros and cons.

Meanwhile, Clark County Fiscal Court plans to hold a public forum at its Aug. 14 regular meeting, said Judge-Executive Henry Branham.

After hearing public comments, fiscal court will decide whether it wishes to pursue Sunday sales for those county precincts where alcohol is sold.

Not everyone favors expanding the availability of alcohol. The Winchester- Clark County Association of Churches has issued a statement opposing Sunday sales.

"Our responsibility, as Christians, is to do justice," the statement said. "We do justice by recognizing that no decision should ever be made solely for financial and/or competitive reasons. People are more important than bottom lines or faceless victors."

The statement also said: "We are not speaking on behalf of those who can and do drink responsibly. We disagree on behalf of those who struggle with alcohol addiction; for those who time and again drink excessively; for those who might inadvertently begin their addiction on a Sunday; and for those are who are in denial that they have a problem with alcohol."

The statement cited statistics from 2002 indicating that only 55 percent of Winchester-Clark County residents stated an affiliation with a church, "meaning 45 percent of the population are unchurched."

"We realize the vast majority of persons won't hear any argument we make based solely on Scripture because not everybody adheres to the Bible," said the Rev. Matt Seel, president of the ecumenical association and pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Winchester.

"And so we're taking a stance grounded in the Scripture, but we're trying to look at other statistics and things of that nature as they pertain to alcohol," Seel said.

Brady, who operates the golf course restaurant, understands the association's position. But, he said, "I'm a Lutheran. It's not an issue with our church nor is it with the Catholic Church. I mean we use wine in our communion. We recognize that God blessed these people with the ability and knowledge to manufacture this stuff. Jesus drank wine. It doesn't mean you have to go get drunk.

"In today's world, in order for businesses to survive, we have to be competitive. If a person has the freedom of religion they should also have freedom of choice."

Brady added: "If Winchester doesn't take its head out of the sand, we're going to be a drive-through community. And that's what's happening. People are just driving through and not stopping and spending money in Clark County. At the end of the day, the bottom line does matter."