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Sunday alcohol sales take a break on Christmas Day
Local, state regulations cause confusion for some
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Gainesville and Oakwood don't allow Christmas Day liquor bottle or package sales, meaning an interruption in the cities' new Sunday sales laws.

Flowery Branch's new Sunday sales law doesn't prohibit such sales on Christmas, but at least two alcohol retailers in town said they won't be selling beer or booze this Sunday.

"We've got to spend at least a day with our families," said Sandy Merickle, who manages Hometown Spirits, 4856 Hog Mountain Road.

There is some disagreement among government officials, business owners and others as to whether, technically, the state prohibits the Christmas Day and Thanksgiving alcohol sales.

Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said after the city council's passage of its ordinance last Monday night that the Christmas Day ban was complying with state law.

Jason Bragg, government affairs director with the Georgia Food Industry Association, took another position.

He said the state doesn't ban it outright but allows local governments to pass ordinances prohibiting sales on Christmas Day. He went on to say that most of the association's members are not open on Christmas.

Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, also shares that view.

"Local elected officials know their community better than anyone, when it comes to determining what community values are and what ordinances fit in those communities," she said.

Flowery Branch City Attorney Ron Bennett also sides with the local governing option on Christmas sales, but he cited a Georgia Department of Revenue regulation that prohibits liquor stores from selling on Christmas Day.

"State law trumps the regulation, but do you want to risk losing your license?" Bennett said in framing how he would advise a client on the matter.

"Practically speaking, (liquor stores) aren't going to take that chance."

Managers at both of the Flowery Branch liquor stores, when contacted about Christmas sales, said it was their understanding they couldn't sell.

But John Choi, manager at Village Spirits Package Store, 5462 McEver Road, shared the sentiment of his cross-town competitor.

"We've got to have some time with the family," he said.

Debbie A. Jones, Gainesville city marshal, also stood by the state regulation.

"What I was told by the revenue department is that locals can prohibit sales of alcohol on Christmas by the drink," she said. "However, retail sales of alcohol are prohibited on Thanksgiving and Christmas."

There is no dispute about New Year's Day, which also falls on Sunday. Sunday sales can resume at 12:30 p.m. that day.

That likely will be the first day Sunday sales are allowed in Oakwood. City Council is expected to give final its OK to its Sunday sales ordinance at a meeting set for 4 p.m. today at City Hall, 4035 Walnut Circle.

Earlier this year, the Georgia legislature enabled local governments to put before voters a referendum on Sunday sales, which also extends to businesses such as grocery and convenience stores.

Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Oakwood voters all passed the measure on Nov. 8.

Flowery Branch was among the first cities in the state to begin Sunday sales on Nov. 20. Sunday sales began in Gainesville on Dec. 11.