A Glass Half Full: Alcohol in Cullowhee yields expansion

Since Jackson County residents voted in favor of alcohol in May, local businesses have been hard at work implementing the new standards that allow them to sell alcohol.

Jeannette Evans, owner of the Mad Batter Bakery & Café in Cullowhee, had already expanded the hours of her business and hired new staff because she can sell alcohol in her business now.

“Along with hiring new staff, having alcohol at the Mad Batter has enabled us to give our staff more hours. There has also been an increase in the night dinner traffic,” said Evans.

While the presence of alcohol in Cullowhee has helped her business expand, Evans had to hurdle the opposition of Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe first.

Ashe, who was tasked with approving or denying location suitability forms, forfeited that power after denying local business owners their suitability, even though they were well within the guidelines for a location of alcohol sales. Ashe denied Evans’ business, along the Catamount Travel Center and Bob’s Mini Mart, because he believed they were “within 50 feet of an educational institution.”

“Being at least fifty feet away from a school campus is actually one of the laws of the state ABC commission,” said Evans. “We came out with a tape measure and knew that it wasn’t correct and that we were well over 50 feet from campus.”

Luckily for her and other business owners, Ashe did not have the final say.

Evans had to wait until the commission took over the suitability approvals, which allowed Evans’ the ability to sell alcohol after review.

Looking back, Evans does not see the Jimmy Ashe fiasco as anything more than a annoyance.

“It was a hassle having to go into Sylva a couple of times to drop off the paperwork, and it was a little more trouble for the business owners,” said Evans, who does not know if Jimmy Ashe was not familiar with the rules for suitability or not but is happy that it all worked out.

Suzanne Lloyd Stone, owner of Rolling Stone Burrito in Cullowhee, does not currently sell alcohol in her business but is approved to do so.

“I hope that we can stay open a bit later,” said Stone, who is currently having her employees take alcohol sales training, which is not required but something that she feels is important.

“I foresee people being able to get a beer with their burrito,” said Stone, who hopes to see a larger customer base from alcohol sales but does not want to make any predictions.

As for local residents and students at Western Carolina University, alcohol in Cullowhee has changed things but for the better.

Rachel Dunn, a student at WCU, was for alcohol in Cullowhee and hopes that franchises like Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chili’s and Outback will be persuaded to take up residence in Cullowhee, giving students more options than the current campus food selection.

Dunn does not foresee that these establishments will do anything but help Cullowhee.

“It will bring many employment opportunities, not only for Western Carolina University students but also Cullowhee locals. With money in these two groups’ pockets, businesses in Sylva will profit from these establishments as well,” said Dunn.

Aaron Cole, another student at Western Carolina, is not old enough to purchase alcohol and believes the majority of students will continue to buy alcohol in Sylva.

“It’s a short drive from campus with a larger variety of alcoholic beverages to choose from in several different stores,” said Cole. “I personally do hope the vote will bring more restaurants such as Applebee’s or Olive Garden to create a larger selection of dining choices in the area.”

While it may be too early to see any significant profit for businesses in Cullowhee because of alcohol sales, the expansion that it is yielding for local businesses, such as hiring new employees and expanding hours, is enough to show that Jackson County voters made the right choice in May.

Larger franchises like Applebee’s or Chili’s may become interested in setting up in Cullowhee in the future, but for now, having alcohol in Cullowhee, for both local business owners and local residents, is a glass half full.