Lubbock marks ten years since going wet

KAMC News

This week marked 10 years since Lubbock voted to go “wet,” selling packaged alcohol in the city limits for the first time. 

“Right now it’s so convenient, either running to Market Street or just down the road just to have a bottle of wine,” Chloe Killebrew said. She turned 21-years-old well after the “Strip” was gone. “So I can’t even imagine having to drive out of the city just to buy one.” 

But many Lubbock residents will still remember the drive down Highway 87 to “Little Vegas,” a row of flashing lights and neon signs inviting buyers in to the only spots where it was legal to sell alcohol. 

A decade later, and most of those businesses are gone. A lot
has changed on the Strip, and in the city, after a big election on May 9th, 2009. 

How did it happen? 

“We knew obviously there would be opposition, and we knew there would be a risk,” Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Eddie McBride said.

He explained that the governmental affairs representative from Sam’s Club expressed concerns about Lubbock’s alcohol sales laws. The company was considering a move to Wolfforth, or another “damp” or “wet” part of the South Plains. 

“That was a wake up call for us,” McBride said. “Is there anybody else out there having the same consideration? A lot of people said, ‘Why would they bring their business here if there was not alcohol sales?’”

The Chamber championed the petition, calling for a vote on two propositions: packaged alcohol sales in the city limits and expanded by-the-drink sales in restaurants to the entire city. Due to a legal technicality, restaurants in some parts of Lubbock were not allowed to sell alcohol. McBride credited a successful petition-campaign as being crucial to the vote ultimately passing. Voters supported both propositions, the first winning by 65%.

“We liked to laugh and say we were the driest county outside of Saudi Arabia,” McBride said. “I think it helped us grow as a city, it helped us mature as a city.” 

He said the change was less about growing the economy by collecting sales tax, and more about new businesses opening up their doors in the Hub City– big names like Spec’s. 

Many worried that with a “big city” mentality, “big city” problems
would follow, like increased DWI’s and crashes. 

What happened next? 

“We can’t really put a finger on any crime type that we see more or experience more often than we did before,” Assistant Chief of the Lubbock Police Department Neal Barron said. “We have stayed fairly consistent across the years.” 

EverythingLubbock.com took a look at the crime statistics, that fluctuate greatly from year to year. On the whole, there appears to be a drop in arrests and crashes in recent years. 

DWI Arrests:
·         2005 – 658 arrests
·         2006 – 820 arrests
·         2007 – 938 arrests
·         2008 – 820 arrests
·         2009 – 585 arrests
·         2010 – 616 arrests
·         2011 – 465 arrests
·         2012 – 800 arrests
·         2013 – 832 arrests
·         2014 – 679 arrests
·         2015 – 571 arrests
·         2016 – 388 arrests
·         2017 – 441 arrests
·         2018 – 424 arrests
·         2019 (Jan – March 31) – 71 arrests

Crashes where alcohol is listed as a possible factor:
·         2005 – 331 crashes 
·         2006 – 399 crashes 
·         2007 – 408 crashes 
·         2008 – 426 crashes
·         2009 – 409 crashes
·         2010 – 393 crashes
·         2011 – 366 crashes
·         2012 – 471 crashes
·         2013 – 452 crashes
·         2014 -355 crashes
·         2015 – 367 crashes
·         2016 – 249 crashes
·         2017 – 348 crashes
·         2018 – 341 crashes
·         2019 (Jan – March 31) – 68 crashes

Public Intoxication arrests statistics are less cut-and-dry, but it appears they have dropped as well. In 2009, there were just over 900 arrests and in 2018 there were approximately 880.

Since 2006, public intoxication arrests hovered between 800-950 per year. However, in 2007 and 2008 there were spikes over 1,100 arrests and in 2011 there was a dip to about 400 arrests.

With each data set, Barron said you have to take into consideration how much the population has grown over the last decade. He added, due to DWI task forces and targeted enforcement, it is hard to tell what drives the numbers. 

Plus, he said Uber and Lyft have had an impact on these statistics, especially when looking at the decline in crashes in the last few years. 

Are there still concerns? 

Dr. David Wilson with Southcrest Baptist Church said, in spite of the statistics, he sees the negative impacts of alcohol abuse every day. 

“All I see is brokenness, death, families splitting up,” Dr. Wilson said. “You go into any store, people are just loading and loading and loading it up. I’m thinking, ‘you don’t have to have that to make yourself feel better.’ I just don’t ever see any good come from it.” 

He was one of the pastors who encouraged his congregation to vote against the proposition back in 2009. He said, he’d vote “no” again if he could. 

“We have a right to disagree with some of the decisions our city planners make,” Dr. Wilson said. “I do that with any issue I think has moral connotations to it.” 

Meanwhile, local liquor store owner Sinkey Scott disagrees.

“I know liquor stores get a bad image. That’s not true. We just sell to regular customers who come to restock their shelves in their house,” Scott said. 

He thinks local stores also provide a level of responsibility and oversight. He knows most of his customers, and they are able to check I.D.’s more thoroughly due to the smaller scale of the store. His business model is being a part of the neighborhood. 

“You can’t compete with Spec’s and Doc’s, but we sell service,” Scott said. “Maybe you can get it cheaper there, but we sell smiles.” 

Winemaker Kim McPherson said that was a reason he was set on an “urban winery,” when he opened the doors of McPherson Cellars downtown in 2008. 

According to state law at the time, wineries could operate in dry counties. When the 2009 proposition passed, his wines just became more accessible.

“In Lubbock, you could only get it here, but when the laws changed, you could get us at Market Street, Lowe’s, all the grocery stores had it.” 

While the change may have affected business at their downtown location at first, he said the dip didn’t last long. In fact, he only sees positive effects. 

“When I was growing up and you went to the Strip to buy some beer, the first thing you did on the way home was open a couple bottles,” McPherson said with a laugh. But then, his tone turned serious as he said, ”I think it’s a lot safer now.” 

EverythingLubbock.com reached out to several businesses still in operation, who used to have locations on the Strip. All refused to comment for the story. 

What now? 

McBride with the Chamber  said the big question today is, “Are there more problems now that we have more access to alcohol?”

His answer is simple. 

“I don’t think we have any proof whatsoever to that. We have plenty of problems in our community, but I don’t think any of them were caused by May 9th, 2009.”

He said it was in Lubbock’s DNA to go wet. 

“If there are folks that are impacted, I’m sorry that has happened. That wasn’t the intent. The intent was the opportunity for access and businesses to grow.”

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