The outcome of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors meeting on January 3, 2018 to review the request for a liquor license for Dollar General Store in Sonoita was disappointing but not surprising. The two-one vote to approve the license (District 1 supervisor Manny Ruiz, who represents Nogales, voted no) was certainly not supported by anyone who spoke at the meeting or anyone in attendance.
But Supervisor Bruce Bracker, whose district includes Sonoita, Patagonia and Elgin, had already made up his mind before the meeting, before anyone spoke against the license and was certainly not swayed by the numerous emails and letters that were sent in opposition.
The day before, he had stated his intentions of voting for the license in an email to Sonoita resident Sally Reichert. Bracker stated in his email, “I do not feel that a decision to deny the license would be in the best interest of fostering a competitive business marketplace.” His other reason was the fact that the value of the property has increased since the store has been built. Neither of these reasons are a benefit to the Sonoita community.
Grace Wystrach, owner of the Mercantile and Steak Out Restaurant, which both sell packaged liquor and are right across the street from Dollar General, explained the lack of competitiveness in buying and selling liquor. “We have already been told by our vendors that we will have to buy beer and wine for what Dollar General can sell it,” refuting Bracker’s argument that the granting of a liquor license to Dollar General would “foster a competitive marketplace. The buying power of a large national chain will actually inhibit the competitive marketplace in Sonoita, doing irreparable harm to our small business owners.
On the bright side of the meeting was Manny Ruiz’s statement. He truly listened to the comments of those who spoke. He cited the fact that the small downtown businesses in Nogales, many of which have shuttered, have suffered with the introduction of the big box stores. He understood the importance of community involvement. He stated that “in good conscience I cannot vote yes for this.” The audience applauded.
Another of the arguments against approving the license that was raised by several of the speakers at the Board of Supervisors meeting is that Sonoita-Elgin already has plenty of places where one can buy alcohol. Within Sonoita proper there are ten locations that sell alcohol.
If you look at the entire Sonoita-Elgin area including wineries, breweries and distillers, there are 31 locations. According to Anita Kay, the communities are “completely over-served and clearly supports why many call us Santa Booze County.”
Another main issue in opposition to the Dollar General liquor license is the fact that our small businesses support the community. Granting the license will hurt those businesses who generously give to 4-H, the County Fair and Horse Races, little league and soccer sports teams, etc. Dollar General is a national corporation headquartered in Tennessee. It has no interest in our community activities.
Next step is a protest to the Arizona State Liquor Board in Phoenix. Unfortunately, state regulations limit responses to those who live or own businesses within a one-mile radius of Dollar General. While this regulation is appropriate in an urban environment, it does not fit our rural community. Many more people will be affected by this decision than only those within one mile. A date for that hearing has yet to be set.
But one of the big questions from the meeting is who is Bruce Bracker? Why is he not listening to his constituency? Why is he supporting a national corporation headquartered in Tennessee over the interests of the residents and businesses in Sonoita-Elgin? One would think that having just closed his 90-year-old family business in Nogales, he would understand the lack of business competitiveness when national chains move in.
Or is it simply the fact that he likes a little additional income for the county derived from the increased property taxes? Regardless of the answer, the bottom line is that Bruce Bracker is not our supervisor.