Voters in Cumming and Forsyth County could get to decide as early as November whether they want the ability to buy alcohol in stores on Sundays.
For that to happen, however, a few steps are required, including Gov. Nathan Deal signing the legislature-approved bill that would allow local governments to put the measure on the ballot.
Upon the governor’s signature, it’s up to the individual governments to decide if and when the question will be presented.
The city of Cumming has council elections scheduled for November. While it’s not official, the county may hold a special election that same month to extend the 1-cent sales tax.
Both Forsyth County Commission Chairman Brian Tam and Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt have indicated the fall election could include the Sunday sales referendum.
“Forsyth would consider putting it on the ballot,” Tam said. “We’ll just have to gauge what the level of interest from the public is.”
Gravitt said he’s already been approached by local businesses asking the city to include it.
“It could very well be on the ballot this November,” Gravitt said. “We have a Wal-Mart and we have Target and some of the other bigger stores and obviously they don’t like to put up ‘not for sale on Sunday’ signs.
“These stores are obviously interested in it and we will take all of it under consideration and the [council] will decide whether they want to put it on there or not. But I think the people should have an opportunity to vote.”
Tam and Gravitt both said if the measure were put on the ballot, it would likely receive voter support.
They pointed toward support for a referendum several years ago that allowed restaurants to serve alcohol on Sundays.
Retail organizations, including the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores and the Georgia Retail Association back the current measure, saying not only would it help their businesses, it would help the counties generate money.
“It’s going to be an appreciable increase in sales,” said John Heavener, president of the retail association. “It’s also going to mean increased tax revenue for Georgia, and that’s going to help at this time.
“As time passes, you’re going to see more and more municipalities and counties, at least in the greater Atlanta area ... embrace this. I think some rural areas will probably always stay dry and will probably never embrace this, but that’s their choice. And that’s the whole idea is to give people the choice about what they want to do.”
Jim Tudor, president of the convenience stores association, said it’s not just local governments. The state is losing revenue as residents cross the border into Tennessee, Alabama, Florida and the Carolinas to buy alcohol at stores on Sundays.
“Along Georgia’s borders, where we have Georgians that leave every Sunday and go into [neighboring states], those convenience store operators would have the ability to keep existing Georgians,” Tudor said.
“You don’t have to get new customers if you can start keeping the ones that are going into other states and that’s going to mean an increase in business.”
Heavener said his organization and others have worked on trying to allow Sunday sales for years.
For retailers, he said, it is a “big thing to have to shut down two aisles of their store on the busiest day of the week for some of them."
"It just hurts their business and it this makes it possible for them to compete fairly with people who are in surrounding states that do not have Sunday sales laws," he said.
Tudor said it’s going to take a while for individual governments to offer a referendum, as was the case with the restaurant sales question.
As some cities and counties start selling alcohol on Sunday, neighboring counties may latch on.
“If they see they’re losing dollars to other counties, they may want to reconsider their position,” he said.
That could work to the advantage of the cities and counties that do allow sales.
“This would mean for visitors who come and visit the Lake Lanier on weekends, tourists, and they want to go to the store on Sunday and buy beverages and alcohol, they can do that,” Gravitt said.