The campaign to allow sales of six-packs of beer and bottles of wine on Sundays in Lexington County largely is being waged in grocery aisles and pulpits.
It’s a battle pitting convenience stores and supermarkets against ministers as the Nov. 4 countywide referendum on ending a ban on such purchases approaches.
The push for change comes from merchants who argue piecemeal restrictions in the Midlands confuse shoppers and put some outlets at a disadvantage, since customers go to stores where they can buy everything in one stop.
“It would provide an equal playing field,” said Bob Brandi, whose Lexington-based company operates a dozen Pitt Stop convenience stores in county areas where such sales are barred and two in communities where they are permitted.
A divided Lexington County Council ordered the ballot despite pleas from some religious leaders and anti-drunken driving advocates against it.
Some pastors who opposed the referendum are asking their congregations to follow suit at the polls.
“We’ll be educating our people and urge them to vote against it,” said the Rev. Stephen Williamson, pastor of Gethsemane Baptist Church in Red Bank.
Anti-DUI advocate David Longstreet of Lexington is concerned the change will open the way to relax other restrictions on sales of alcoholic beverages, making travel on local roads more dangerous.
It’s a low-key conflict overshadowed by the battle over an accompanying Nov. 4 ballot measure for a local sales tax increase to pay for road improvements and other projects.
Neither side on the Sunday sales referendum has organized an effort to promote its view.
Staff at Brandi’s stores are relying on a soft-sell method that he says is “one-on-one, informing people what it’s about.”
The ban on beer and wine sales by the package is the last major restriction on Sunday shopping in a steadily growing county with strong pockets of appreciation for the Christian day of worship.
Approval by voters is required for its elimination.
Repeal in Chapin, Irmo and Lexington occurred overwhelmingly, despite opposition from some pastors.
Allowing such sales countywide “is going to fly through,” council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat predicted.
The repeal on sales of those beverages by the package would apply to 11 communities as well as unincorporated areas.
Abolition countywide is designed to avoid a perplexing checkerboard of controls for shoppers and merchants alike, supporters say.
“Approving this change means that local consumers can do all of their grocery shopping in one place close to home and keep tax dollars in the local community,” said Lindsey Kueffner, executive director of the South Carolina Retail Association.
Leaders in some communities don’t favor repeal, but most accept the decision of county leaders to apply the referendum uniformly.
About a sixth of the county’s estimated population of 273,000 residents live in the 11 municipalities affected – Batesburg-Leesville, Cayce, Gaston, Gilbert, Pelion, Pine Ridge, South Congaree, Springdale, Summit, Swansea and West Columbia.
Cayce has its own referendum Nov. 4 to allow Sunday sales there as a backup should repeal countywide fail.
Lexington would be the 10th county in South Carolina to allow Sunday sales of beer and by the package.
Restaurants and bars across the Columbia area – including those in Lexington County – already sell alcoholic drinks with and without meals on Sundays.