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Wesson stores begin Sunday beer sales

You can now buy beer on Sundays in Wesson.

A little more than a year after The Wesson Board of Aldermen voted to prohibit sales of beer and light wine on Sundays, they reversed their decision, amending the town ordinance that regulates sales of the beverages.

The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Alton Shaw breaking a 2-2 deadlock over the amendment. Alderman Jared Ashley, who operates the Ashley's 51 convenience store, which sells beer, recused himself from the discussion and vote on the issue.

"A number of factors influenced the decision," Mayor Shaw said. "Chief among them was the sales tax revenue losses the town is facing in developing its 2021 fiscal year budget in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and the decline in shopping as a result of the closures of Co-Lin and Wesson Attendance Center. After voting against Sunday beer sales last year, several Alderman also said they wanted to revisit the issue in 2020."

Ashley affirmed the Mayor's comments, saying "the town's finances are not good right now."

The focus on beer and light wine sales in Wesson started in January 2019 when the town's electorate voted 187-78 to authorize it within the Wesson corporate limits. A decision by Lincoln County Chancery Court Judge to allow Wesson to annex a strip of Highway 51 that extended the town's corporate boundary to just three miles north of Brookhaven cleared the way for the vote under a state law that permits municipalities with populations of at least 1,500 to legalize beer and light wine sales if they are within three miles of another municipality in which they are legal.

The Board of Aldermen approved an implementing ordinance in February 2019 intended to limit

beer and light wine sales to shoppers and restaurant/cafe patrons to Mondays thru Saturdays in Wesson. The language of the law, however, permitted licensed eateries to serve the beverages by the glass on Sundays, and until May customers could legally buy beer and light wine served in glasses in the town's restaurants/cafes. When Mayor Shaw reported the loophole in the ordinance at the Board of Aldermen's April meeting, a debate, including town citizens, on whether or not to adjust the law ensued. In May, the majority of Aldermen voted to adjust the law to reflect the intent of their vote in February to prohibit Sunday sales of beer and light wine anywhere in town.

The Sunday beer sales debate at the April and May Aldermen meetings encompassed town residents who cited their religious beliefs in arguing to outlaw Sunday sales, and others who pointed to lost tax revenues, the need to face the reality of a secular society in changing times and "bringing Wesson into the Twenty-first Century."

In the vote last year, Aldermen Stephen Ashley, Billy Ellison, Michael King and Larry Hall opposed Sunday sales, with Jarrad Ashley not voting because of conflict-of-interest considerations. Last month, King and Ellison changed their votes, setting up Mayor Shaw's tie-breaking vote and legalization of Sunday beer and light wine sales.

The Sunday sales amendment is part of an ordinance that also includes:

  • • Prohibiting sales of beer and light wine within 250 feet of any church, school, funeral home, public library, day care center, public park or kindergarten in a commercial or industrial zone and within 500 feet in other areas;

  • • Limiting sales of beer and light wine to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. in grocery, variety and convenience stores that derive 50 percent or more of gross sales from merchandise other than alcohol and to between 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. in restaurants and cafes with 50 per cent of gross receipts from prepared food;

  • • Prohibiting (1) service at the curb outside an establishment, to visibly or noticeably intoxicated individuals and to persons of ill repute and (2) licensure of sellers with "lewd, immoral or improper entertainment" and gambling, and that permit loud, boisterous or disorderly conduct;

  • • Requiring (1) establishments that sell beer and light wine to complete a comprehensive application that lists owners or principal officers to assure they are qualified, and pay an annual privilege license tax and (2) restaurants and cafes to obtain a permit or to pay a small fee to allow customers to bring alcoholic beverages, beer or light wine to consume with meals.

The tax loss sustained when Newman's liquor store moved to Brookhaven after the city legalized hard liquor and wine sales propelled proponents of beer and light wine sales in Wesson. With hard liquor and wine sales legal throughout Copiah County for some fifty years, authorized Wesson stores have benefited and generated significant tax revenues for the town. Wesson lost close to $4,000 per month of these tax revenues, however, with Newman's relocation.

By Bob Arnold


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