September is about to fade, Halloween’s around the corner, with Thanksgiving close behind.
Next thing you know, they’ll be turning on the Yule lights again in McAdenville.
But before that happens, there’s another big event coming up in Christmastown USA: a vote on alcohol sales.
The town’s 400 or so registered voters go to the polls Oct. 2, deciding these points: whether to permit the “on-premises” sale of malt beverages by Class A hotels, motels and restaurants only; and to permit “off-premises” sales by other permittees; whether to permit the “on-premises” and “off-premises” sale of unfortified wine and the sale of mixed drinks in hotels, restaurants, private clubs, community theaters and convention centers.
As you might expect, this has stirred controversy. Supporters of the change say alcohol sales will boost the town economically, helping attract restaurants, a grocery store and other businesses; opponents feel it will harm the town.
Mayor Farrell Buchanan is an outspoken opponent.
“I’m against changing our town in this fashion,” he told me. “I’ve always felt Christmastown was unique. We don’t need this kind of publicity. This is not a good time for the town just now.”
What really bothers him is the way the ABC election came about – not by a vote from the town council, but by a petition circulated by proponents.
In his view, the upcoming election underscores two opposing currents swirling in McAdenville: folks who have lived there a long time and newcomers.
It’s the people who moved into the new neighborhood who hatched this election, he feels. And he’s upset.
“My thought is, if they want us to be like Cramerton, Belmont or Gastonia, they need to buy them a house there,” Buchanan said. “Newcomers came to the new development here because it was a quiet little community outside of Charlotte where there’s not a lot of problems. Now they want to change the town from what they wanted.”
‘This is about business’
Buchanan recalled the Town Council was split on whether to approve an ABC election, and if it had ever gotten around to a vote he’d have broken the tie – and voted against alcohol sales.
As council put off a decision, a petition for an election began circulating. And when 35 percent of registered voters signed it, the county board of election automatically approved the election.
“Basically, they didn’t let us have a chance,” Buchanan said.
The Oct. 2 election is “…going to be close,” he said. “But I’m not going to let it go without a fight. I’ve been elected to protect this town. We’re trying our best not to have beer signs at Christmas.”
One more thing: if the issue does get approved “the public is going to have to bear the extra cost if we need more police,” promised Buchanan.
Former McAdenville Town Council member Gent Simmons sees the alcohol issue differently. Describing himself as “pro business” and “pro-McAdenville,” Simmons said that for years he’d heard talk about McAdenville’s lack of growth. The town’s tax base, largely derived from Pharr Yarns, was “really lopsided,” Simmons said.
“What if they went away?” he asked. “All our eggs are in one basket.”
Alcohol sales would be a way to attract new businesses, he said.
Earlier this year, Simmons brought the ABC election issue to the Town Council for consideration. As the matter was discussed, Simmons said the mayor told him “he’d do everything in his power to block it.”
The council was going to vote on the issue but agreed that everybody should be present. Simmons said one council member was going to be out of the country for several months, so Simmons asked McAdenville resident Greg Richardson to start circulating a petition calling for an election.
Gaston County Director of Elections Adam Ragan said that when the petition started June 5, supporters had 90 days to complete the process. They needed 140 names, and 149 were accepted by the elections board when the petition was certified July 19.
Simmons said the majority of signatures came from longtime residents rather than newcomers.
Meanwhile, a month ago, he resigned from council after he and his wife moved to Belmont, where they plan to renovate an old house.
But he’ll be watching how things turn out in McAdenville.
“This is not about right or wrong, good or bad,” said Simmons. “This is about business.”
While Gaston County is still dry, McAdenville is one of only three towns that don’t allow alcohol sales. Ranlo and Spencer Mountain are the others.
During the years, I’ve covered many an ABC election. I’ve sat in City Council chambers and listened to proponents and opponents argue it out – often at great length and with fire and brimstone.
In the days leading up to the vote, I’ve seen communities dotted with signs proclaiming the evils or benefits of alcohol sales; some got downright nasty. I’ve witnessed the victory of drys one year only to have wets eventually win another time.
McAdenville lost some of its charm when many of the traditional mill houses were torn down years ago, making way for a new neighborhood. But even with change, it’s still a charming town.
I’m not making any predictions about the outcome of McAdenville’s ABC election. But whatever happens, I hope a spirit of unity returns. One thing I’ll bet on: the bright star of Christmastown USA won’t lose its luster in the least.