Food City will open a spirits and wine store at its Whitesburg location, probably in early spring, company Chief Executive Officer Steve Smith said Tuesday.
The state has approved the application, and the supermarket chain will take over the package liquor and wine license that has been unused since the Whitesburg Rite Aid closed. That will mean two liquor stores in Whitesburg instead of one.
Whitesburg Police Chief and Alcoholic Beverage Control Coordinator Tyrone Fields said the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issued the license about three weeks ago, but it will not actually be in effect until creation of liquor department. Under state law, grocery stores must have alcoholic beverages other than beer separated from food.
“I think they’ve been issued the license, but I think as soon as their construction is done, they will actually get the license,” Fields said.
State law allows one package liquor license for every 2,500 residents in a city, with a minimum of two licenses. Whitesburg has had only one store, Big Daddy’s Liquor Barn at Ermine, since Rite Aid closed.
Smith said his company will build a store with a separate entrance, as required by state law, and it will be similar to one built at the Food City store in Pikeville.
“The store will be adjacent to the existing store,” Smith said, on the “front porch” area.
“I don’t know how long it will take to get it built, but I’d say early spring,” he said.
Smith said the spirits and wine store will comprise about 2,000 square feet, and will require the addition of six to eight new jobs. The company is looking for local contractors “as we speak,” Smith said.
“We’ll run a very nice store,” he said. “We’re certainly excited about it. It’s a convenience for the customers.”
City voters approved package sales in 2012, five years after approving liquor by the drink in restaurants that seat over 100 people. The law has since changed, lifting the restrictions on the number of seats in restaurants, allowing package sales and Sunday beer sales, and allowing two bar licenses. Jenkins has the same allowances, but the remainder of the county is still dry, as it has been since 1944, when court challenges to a 1943 dry vote were finally exhausted. The Court of Appeals, which at the time was the highest court in Kentucky, overturned that election in 1944, saying 32 voters in the Rocky Hollow precinct, 29 of whom voted to keep the county wet, were disenfranchised when the county board of elections refused to count their votes. That original decision was later revisited after a motion by advocates for prohibition, and the county became dry. A second vote in 1946 failed to reverse the change.
In 1946, 72 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were dry. The number of dry counties has been falling rapidly since then and by January 2019, just 15 counties were completely dry. Most others were like Letcher County — “moist” counties, sales are allowed in some precincts, but not in the entire county.
The trend toward relaxed alcohol regulation has continued. This November, wet forces in eastern Kentucky won in Elkhorn City, Harlan, McKee in Jackson County, and Lee County. Jackson County and Lee County were completely dry.