Opinion

John Barleycorn, meet the city of Asheboro, NC

Thirty years ago, a legislator from Randolph County did either a courageous thing or a foolish thing – or both.

Rep. Jack Pugh, D-Randolph stood on the House floor to move reconsideration of a vote that appeared to have ended the quest for the sale of liquor by the drink in North Carolina. His parliamentary maneuver allowed the House to revive the bill, debate it and approve it within days. That set in motion a series of local elections around the state that finally allowed liquor to be sold by the shot. Until that bill passed, liquor was sold only in ABC stores, and many communities allowed customers to bring bottles into restaurants in a paper bag, to be mixed drink by drink at the table.

But not in Randolph County and not in Jack Pugh's hometown of Asheboro. That fall of 1978, Mr. Pugh, a conservative Democrat, was voted out of office along with other Democrats. And since that day, you still haven't been able legally to buy a drink of hard liquor in Asheboro.

That's about to change. Tuesday, voters in Asheboro – located in the central Piedmont of the state – voted in the sale of beer (60 percent approved it), wine (with 61 percent approval), mixed-drinks (62 percent approved) and ABC stores (59 percent approval).

The election came at the end of a hard-fought campaign that reverberated with fears of what it would do to the state's largest dry town – and what it would do for economic development and visitation to the nearby N.C. Zoo, too.

Alcohol sales there will probably do what they have done for the rest of the state. They have helped create jobs, bring in more tax revenue, attract new restaurants and helped bring in industries whose executives expect to be able to entertain with alcohol. It will also result in negative consequences for those who abuse alcohol and require substance abuse programs.

The arrival of alcohol in its various forms in Asheboro comes at a time when another commodity's popularity is waning. While voters in Asheboro have approving alcohol, legislators in Raleigh are steadily reducing the places where tobacco can legally be consumed, though the General Assembly has declined to ban smoking in restaurants and bars.

That day may be on the way before long. But 30 years ago when Jack Pugh made liquor by the drink possible and his further political career impossible, no one would have bet that within three decades John Barleycorn would be in and store-bought cigarettes on their way out. Such is progress, we suppose.

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