LUBBOCK, Texas - When Prohibition was lifted way back in 1933, Texas was a little reluctant to go along with the trend.
The state didn't repeal its own alcohol ban until two years later, and even then Texas allowed local governments to remain booze-free. While many areas to this day remain "dry," the biggest teetotaling town in Texas may be going wet on Saturday.
Voters in Lubbock will decide whether beer, wine and liquor will be available in stores around this town of about 210,000. For decades, Texas Tech University students and anybody else looking for a drink had to go to a quarter-mile patch of pavement that serves a handful of stores on the southeastern edge of town.
Lubbock has allowed by-the-drink sales of beer, wine and liquor in taverns and restaurants since the 1970s.
Those who favor expanding sales to include "package stores" say it's time the city shows some progressiveness, citing convenience, paying a fair price for alcohol and economic growth.
"We need to be on a level playing field" to compete with other cities for business, said Melissa Pierce, chairwoman of Lubbock County Wins, a political action committee pushing for the measure's passage. "If it doesn't happen now, it could be another 40 years before we talk about it again."
Opponents say quality of life will suffer in neighborhoods near the stores, underage drinking will increase and the city over time will become seedy. Brant O'Hair, co-chairman of the group Truth About Alcohol Sales that opposes the measure, said he believes most liquor "package stores" will go in poorer neighborhoods.
"The people who are most vulnerable in our society will be affected the most," he said. "Follow the money. It's the liquor lobby."
According to the most recent fundraising reports, Wal-Mart gave the largest single contribution, $25,000, to Lubbock County Wins. Last fall, the retailer contributed $50,000 to fund a drive to collect petition signatures to put the issue on the ballot. Most of the more than 60,000 signatures garnered were gotten in front of its stores.
Small contributors are funding the opposition group, Truth About Alcohol Sales, which raised more than $23,600 since January and spent more than $2,000 over the same period.
Other efforts to bring package sales into Lubbock in years past never could garner enough support.
Alcohol sales in Lubbock would benefit the city's economy, said Ray Perryman, a well-known Texas economist. He estimates that local taxing entities would gain $5.2 million in additional tax revenue each year if the measure passes.
"It makes sense for the area from a purely economic perspective, no doubt about it," Perryman said.
If passed, the measure will create more than 2,400 jobs and increase annual spending in Lubbock by $251.6 million, he said.