Fircrest citizens are seeking to overturn a 90-year ban on alcohol sales by the glass, a prohibition that for years has applied to some businesses but not others in Washington state’s only “dry” city.
A group of at least a dozen business owners and residents are circulating a petition to repeal the city’s blue law, which was last voted on and overwhelmingly supported in 1975. They hope to get enough signatures to put a measure on the local ballot this fall.
While state voters repealed blue laws in 1966, Fircrest kept its version of prohibition. It allows packaged alcohol sales, and adults are free to drink within city limits.
But it prevents business owners, such as Scott Clement, from selling beer and wine by the glass.
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Clement, owner of the Spring Lake Cafe, said the petition is an attempt to “level the playing field” for business owners who want to compete with others that already sell alcohol by the glass.
That disparity is the result of a 1994 state law, created specifically for Fircrest, that allowed alcohol sales only in annexed parts of the city.
At least seven establishments, including the Fircrest Golf Club, can serve alcohol because they’re located in a roughly 200-acre area that joined the city in the mid-1990s. Regents Boulevard, the city’s main drag and home of Clements’ cafe, is the primary area affected by the ban.
Clement pointed to Pint Defiance, a taproom on Mildred Street West less than a mile from his cafe, as one establishment that has an advantage because of the uneven business landscape.
“They can add sandwiches to what they do, but we can’t add alcohol to what we do to directly compete,” Clement said.
Spring Lake Cafe has primarily focused on breakfast and lunch, but Clement said he wants to start serving dinner. Without the ability to sell alcohol by the glass, however, expanding his food offerings isn’t feasible, he said.
“It’s an uphill battle if we can’t serve beer or wine,” Clement said. “You’re basically out of the discussion at that point.”
To make it onto the November ballot, Fircrest’s citizen-led petition must be submitted no fewer than 60 days and no more than 90 days prior to the election, according to state law. No resolution is needed by the Fircrest or Pierce County councils.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson said that Sept. 4 is the latest that signatures could be turned in, but the group is urged to submit them as close to Aug. 5 as possible.
Fircrest’s petition effort is a direct result of legislation passed this year in Olympia.
House Bill 1564 was drafted to protect the status of businesses that already can sell alcohol by the glass. Before the new law was passed, a failed attempt by voters to overturn Fircrest’s ban would have extended the prohibition to businesses that are currently exempt.
Now, the outcome of any alcohol vote held in Fircrest will only affect businesses currently subject to the ban.
Attorney Tom Oldfield, who helped the group draft the Fircrest petition, said the measure was written to mirror the change in state law.
As a result, the election will be decided by voters living within the affected area, not by all voters in Fircrest.
Mike Rooney, county elections manager, said the election won’t include areas annexed after 1975. Much of the city is contained in the pre-1975 boundaries.
Rooney said the citizen-led petition must get 799 signatures to qualify for the ballot. That’s 30 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last general election, as required by state law.
Clement said he’s urging his cafe customers to sign the petition, hoping finally to eliminate the anomaly in local alcohol sales by the glass.
“I think it makes it more fair,” he said. “It would be a major deal for us.”