TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Bill Radke: Dry America is turning wet and money has a lot to do with it. From the Carolinas to the Plains, there are states and counties that still restrict alcohol sales, but those restrictions are disappearing. Winona, Texas — population 600 — is the first town in its county to allow alcohol sales since Prohibition.
The mayor of Winona is Rusty Smith. Rusty, welcome to the show.
Rusty Smith: Hi. Thank you Bill.
Radke: Your town had been dry for about 90 years. Why take up the issue of going wet now?
Smith: I think it’s just a changing of the times. I think some of the younger residents of our area are for it, and alcohol doesn’t have the stigma that it used to have associated with it. And, we’ve also got a lot of folks that — you know, this area now that come in from out of town, out of state, where a lot of states, the notion of a dry county or a dry area is ludicrous.
Radke: Sounds like a time machine, if you’re from out of town.
Radke: Well, it’s been legal now for a few months. You can buy and sell alcohol. What’s it done for your economy?
Smith: Well, for our local town, it’s a great benefit. Our sales tax revenues were couple thousand dollars a month, ’cause we only had a couple businesses in town. Once these businesses opened up, it’s brought quite a bit more. It equates to about a $10,000-a-month increase in sales taxes. So, for us, that means a lot of projects that have been on hold we get to do now, such as road repairs. We just started those projects and make sure we get signs put out to let everybody know that the local sales tax dollars are what’s paying for those.
Radke: How much of the pro-alcohol argument was economic?
Smith: On my side that was the majority of it. The economics that it brings back into our county, back into our city was a big deal. The first business that opened is a store that has been… It was a service station at one time, but since I’ve lived in town, it had been closed. I was there when they opened the doors, and that’s the first time I was able to walk in to that establishment in the 20 years I’ve been in town. That was exciting to see that retail business coming back to us.
Radke: Well, how do you feel about this mayor? I mean, opponents said, yeah, selling alcohol would bring in business and taxes, and that’s not worth compromising our values.
Smith: It’s one of those, I guess you call it, a moral dilemma that everybody faces. You know, I said through the whole election, I’m not there trying to change anybody’s mind. The folks that are against it are against it, but we’ve called it a dried-up town. We had two businesses, a restaurant and a gas station in town, and that’s all we had prior to this. So, I actually look at this as helping us to revitalize our town.
Radke: Has there been any result of passing this alcohol law that has surprised you?
Smith: Actually, I guess the surprise is the amount of money we are bringing in. It’s actually more than I expected it to be. We’re bringing in twice what I thought we might bring in from this.
Radke: After the law passed, did you pick up a six-pack yourself?
Smith: I did. I visited each store as they opened, at least once, to see the stores and wasn’t the last six-pack I bought. And I still try to split my business between ’em.
Radke: I guess as mayor, you have to shake a lot of hands, cut a lot of ribbons and now, drink a lot of six-packs. Mayor Rusty Smith of Winona, Texas, where since November, you can now buy or sell a drink. Rusty, thank you.
Smith: You’re very welcome. I appreciate you having me on.