By MICHAEL BIESECKER, Associated Press
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Adding a twist to blue laws in an increasingly red state, North Carolina's Republican-led legislature is toasting a measure intended to keep the booze flowing at the Democratic National Convention.
President Barack Obama and other Democratic Party headliners are set to be in Charlotte for the nominating soirée held every four years, which kicks off with a Labor Day party at a stock car track. The state's government-run liquor stores are closed Sundays and for the Monday holiday, presenting a potential problem for bars, restaurants and hotels needing to replenish depleted alcohol stocks.
The convention is expected to draw tens of thousands of people who will spend millions on food and libations.
To the rescue is a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Raleigh sponsoring a bill to keep the Alcoholic Beverage Control stores in Mecklenburg County, which includes Charlotte, open for Labor Day 2012. Co-sponsored by Republicans and Democrats from the Charlotte area, the measure flowed through the state House last week on a voice vote and is awaiting approval in the Senate.
Rep. Bill Brawley, a Mecklenburg Republican, said helping Charlotte be fully prepared to quench the thirsts of the arriving politicos and media horde is just good manners.
"The political party of the people attending is not material," said Brawley, one of the bill's primary sponsors. "Our state will treat them the way we would want our own people to be treated when they visit other states."
Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who has frequently clashed with the Republicans who took control of the General Assembly two years ago, said she would sign the bill into law.
"This legislation helps North Carolina be a good host," said Perdue, who is co-chair of the Charlotte in 2012 Convention Host Committee.
With the exception of Sunday mornings, beer and wine can be bought from retail stores and wholesalers. But distilled spirits such as whiskey, gin and vodka are available only at ABC stores or warehouses operated by local governments and regulated by the state. The system is a holdover from the repeal of Prohibition, when Bible-quoting teetotalers were appointed to county control boards to keep rosters of local alcoholics and deny them access to liquor.
Paul Stroup, the chief executive officer of Mecklenburg County ABC, said he lobbied a local Republican lawmaker to change the law this year so the stores could be open on the holiday. The measure will help small businesses capitalize on an important opportunity for an economic boost.
"For us, it's strictly a customer service issue," Stroup said. "Many places don't have a lot of secure storage capacity for additional spirits if we were closed for two consecutive days."
Suzi Emmerling, a spokeswoman for Charlotte in 2012, said organizers expect about 35,000 people to attend the convention, with about 1,000 events scheduled over four days. While it's hard to predict the economic impact, she said, the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver reported bringing in more than $150 million.
And that doesn't count the spillover from the event, with thousands more people expected to be filling the streets around the convention venues. Protesting the excess of Wall Street under the hot Carolina sun could be a parching endeavor.
The owners and managers of Charlotte's uptown watering holes are certainly expecting a boost in business, though some doubted that having the liquor stores open an extra day will really make much of a difference.
Jaclyn Winquist is the manager of a speakeasy-themed saloon called Prohibition about a block from the convention venue. She said she usually buys her spirits a week in advance, tripling the order if she knows a big event is coming.
Still, Winquist applauded the new legislation.
"It's always a good thing when you can have access to liquor," she said.
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