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Clermont businesses say they lose without booze
City to hear beer, wine sales concerns tonight
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Del Rey manager Fabian Vega wants to offer alcohol to his guests. He said several restaurants have failed at the same location on U.S. 129 near the city limits and a less restrictive law could boost his profits. “You never know if you never try,” Vega said last week. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Clermont town hall meeting

What: Discussion of allowing beer/wine sales

When: 7 tonight

Where: Chattahoochee Center, 639 Main St., Clermont

Contact: 770-983-7568

El Rey Mexican Restaurant and Happy Food Mart in Clermont have more in common than just being neighbors on U.S. 129/Cleveland Highway.

Both say they have customers leaving their premises as soon as they enter after hearing the establishments don’t sell beer and wine.

“We’re not doing very well on business right now,” El Rey manager Fabian Vega said.

Both are pushing the North Hall town of about 900 to look at changing local law, which now bans the “sale, distribution or service” of any malt beverages, wine or distilled spirits.

Clermont has scheduled a town hall meeting at 7 tonight to hear from residents on the issue. The meeting will take place at the Chattahoochee Center, 639 Main St.

“We’re just trying to get a feel for what people feel about the issue,” Mayor James Nix said. “Off and on, businesses have asked us over the years (about such sales). I guess more of them are (asking) and so council members thought we should at least consider it.

“It’s not a totally new issue — just time to hit it again, I guess.”

The ordinance, approved in July 2011, also forbids open containers within vehicles or any public place, or bringing alcohol into a business.

It doesn’t cover serving wine “as part of a religious sacrament or ceremony, including weddings and wedding receptions.”

Asked if he has a particular opinion on the issue, Nix said, “I’m just waiting to see what the people (say). I try to represent the people of the town.”

Sam Patel of Happy Food Mart said one issue Clermont businesses face is competition from nearby establishments in Hall County that are allowed to sell beer and wine. He said a store “not even 200 yards away” has such sales.

“Maybe this is the time to change (the ordinance),” he said.

He said many of his customers aren’t local — they’re just passing through town — and “they just leave” once they hear the store doesn’t sell beer and wine.

Councilman Seth Weaver said he’s keeping an open mind to what residents say on the issue, but Clermont fits a particular niche — mainly as a working-class bedroom community.

“Clermont doesn’t have a lot of material things to offer people, but we have a great community of people you can lean on when you need somebody,” he said.