Today, in the foyer of the Kroger at 5665 E. Mockingbird Lane, Progress Dallas officially launched its effort to collect the 68,846 signatures needed to call a local option election giving residents the chance to vote for the elimination the dry areas of Dallas, as well as ending all the "private-club" hoops that dry-area restaurants are forced to jump through if they want to serve beer and wine to customers.
Progress Dallas -- a special purpose political action committee consisting of local residents and businesses -- claims the initiative is about more than just making it convenient to buy beer and wine. It estimates that the city loses $10 million in tax revenues annually to our wet neighbors, which could be used for fixing potholes, buying library books and other city services.
The 11 a.m. media extravaganza was held in just inside the store's main entrance, and all the cameras, reporters and Progress Dallas folks corralled in the lobby drew puzzled looks and stares from average grocery shoppers as they rumbled past with their carts.
Calls for assistance in the floral department and other areas around the store kept squawking over the storewide paging system, while Gary Huddleston, chairman of Progress Dallas and director of consumer affairs for Kroger's Southwest Division, opened the press conference.
"The reason we're doing this is for our customers," Huddleston said, adding that the grocery chain regularly addresses questions as to why, for example, the Kroger on Greenville Avenue and Mockingbird Lane can sell beer and wine, but the grocer's Greenville Avenue and Forest Lane location -- some six miles away -- cannot.
Progress Dallas is backed by several big-box grocery chains, the Greater Dallas Restaurant Association as well as a number of independent restaurants and retailers, and the petitions will be readily available in area Krogers, Wal-Marts, Sam's Clubs, Albertsons, Whole Foods and Quick Trips.
There are actually two different petitions. The yellow petition seeks "the legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders only," while the blue one is for "the legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption only." And, for the signatures to count, those who sign must be registered voters of Dallas in the counties of Collin, Dallas, Denton, Kaufman and Rockwall.
"We believe it will be successful and that we'll get the required number of signatures," Huddleston told Unfair Park after the presser. "This is important because it gives the people the chance to vote on it and to decide for themselves."
The total number of signatures needed is determined by a state statute that requires cities seeking to legalize or prohibit alcohol sales to obtain 35 percent of the number of voters who cast ballots in the most recent gubernatorial election. And, much like with the Trinity River toll road and convention center hotel referendums, the group has 60 days to gather signatures, and then the city secretary has 30 days to verify them before it goes in front of the city council for approval.
And, lest our readers think that Progress Dallas is just a bunch of guys in suits trying to make some money, which it clearly is, there are plenty of small businesses and restaurants backing the initiative.
"We just want to get it on a ballot for people to choose," Matt Spiller, owner of Eno's Pizza Tavern, told Unfair Park after the event. (He was the second person to sign the petition after a friend of his signed it first.) Spiller says he's been involved in this effort since before the founding of Progress Dallas because the laws that force restaurants to operate as "private clubs" hurts small business like his.
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After the press conference, Huddleston conferred with John Hatch of Texas Petition Strategies, which is serving as a consultant to the effort, and both were pleased with the event. We asked who they felt would be opposing the petition and the vote, assuming it makes it onto the ballots in November. Naturally, political, religious and neighborhood groups and associations tend to have the most reservations about going wet, but Spiller says after talking with some political and religious leaders in the community, their concerns erode when they learn about the burden to small businesses and lost tax revenue for the city.
Huddleston says it was a good sign that there weren't any protestors picketing the launch. "What people have to remember is this isn't about liquor stores on every corner. It's just about having beer and wine in your neighborhood grocery and convenience stores."
And how successful are these petition drives?
"We did Denton and Irving," Hatch says. "You name a town that's gone wet up here and we probably helped do it."