Voters in Robbinsville, a tiny town in North Carolina’s last dry county, have approved the sale of beer and wine, according to unofficial results Tuesday.
In addition to local seats, voters in the town of about 600 got to choose whether to allow alcohol sales, excluding hard liquor, such as gin, vodka, or whiskey. Nearly half of the town’s 496 registered voters came out, approving on- and off-premises sales of beer and wine, including the sale of malt beverages in hotels. The latter measure got more than 55% of the vote, according to the N.C. State Board of Elections, though the margins in all categories consisted of just a few votes. The election is unofficial until votes are canvassed, typically in a week or 10 days.
It’s the first time the issue has been put to a public vote since Graham County outlawed alcohol sales more than 70 years ago, the Citizen-Times of Asheville reports. The population of Graham County, two-thirds of which sits in the Nantahala National Forest, is about 8,500.
Town Alderman Brian “Taco” Johnson, the Citizen-Times reports, helped get the alcohol referendum on the ballot but declined to talk to the paper about his stance on the upcoming vote. The town voted 2-0 to place alcohol sales on the November 2021 ballot at the July 1 Robbinsville Board of Aldermen meeting, according to the Graham Star.
Tuesday, Johnson led all candidates in a race for a seat on the board. Johnson got 106 votes, which is more than 20%. Kenneth Hyde got 100 votes, about 19%. Fontana Dam, a tourist site near the Little Tennessee River and the town’s namesake dam in Graham County, also allows the sale of beer and wine. Unincorporated parts of the county, though, remain dry.
The N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission in the late 1930s set up North Carolina as a “local option” state, which means counties or municipalities can vote to allow the sale of alcohol in their jurisdictions. Problem is, some of the state’s alcohol laws have roots in Prohibition, and the process of reforming the antiquated system in this deeply religious state has been arduous, at best.
John Trump is Carolina Journal managing editor and author of “Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.”