In May, Pender County voters approved a ballot measure changing a half-century-old law forbidding businesses other than hotels and restaurants from selling beer by the glass for on-premises consumption. The vote was strongly in favor of the initiative, though not overwhelming: 3,446 for, 2,166 against.
Sentiment for approval was stronger than that, Quarter Moon Books and Gift owner Lori Fisher believes, with a good deal of the unfavorable votes being cast because of the referendum language, which asked voters to approve selling glasses of “malt beverages.” Many people, Fisher believes, mistakenly believed they were casting votes against malt whiskeys.
Fisher, who already had a permit to sell wine by the glass in her bookstore and gift shop at the southern end of Topsail Beach, led the effort to get the beer question on the ballot.
“I started the wine bar because I thought it was a good fit for my business,” she said. “What we discovered was that a lot of couples were coming in for the evening, but the men didn’t drink wine. When they found out we didn’t have beer, they ended up going elsewhere. It really helped a lot that we could offer both beer and wine.”
The voters approved the initiative in early May, “but it took a little bit to get the permit,” Fisher said. “They had to take a week to certify the results, and the gentleman who did that was out of town for a couple of days. He got it up to Raleigh to the ABC Commission, and they had their own paperwork.”
Fisher drove to the capital to pick up the permit on the Thursday before the long Memorial Day weekend. “As soon as they put it in the computer, I called my wine bar manager so he could order the beer; we wanted beer available Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “Distributors wouldn’t sell it to us until it was in the computer proving we had a permit.”
Sales have been great, Fisher said, better than expected, and have had no discernible impact on wine revenue. She intends to increase her concentration on local and North Carolina brews. “We already have quite a variety of craft beers,” she said. “It amazes me how many craft beers are out there.”
Despite possible voter concern, the ability of a variety of retail businesses to get a beer permit has not opened the taps, at least not in Fisher’s immediate neighborhood. She said she was not aware of others seeking permits. “Right where we are, in the town of Topsail Beach at the south end of the island, I’m really the only one that it would apply to; the others were restaurants already, so were already covered.”
No other non-restaurant or non-lodging Pender County business has been awarded one of the $400 beer permits, according to the results of a search of the ABC website. An ABC Commission spokesperson, however, said that it is possible some applications could be in the pipeline.