Not global warming, not a barometric anomaly, exactly — but, yes, extreme varying degrees of humidity have been reported in Mitchell County. From time immemorial we have resolutely been known as a "dry" county; no sales of alcohol, ever, one of the few counties in America to adopt such a stance. In the 1990s, state laws were rewritten to allow pre-existing restaurants within a mile of the Blue Ridge Parkway to sell beer and wine. That entitled a few restaurants on the edges of our county to serve, making us "damp."
A decade or so later laws introduced in the N.C. legislature allowed liquor to be sold upon the premises of resorts. This encouraged the partnering of hotels, restaurants, bars, golf courses, tennis clubs, horseback riding establishments, ant farms, etc., to form "resorts" all over the county, rendering us "moist."
Yet until this week one could not buy an alcoholic beverage within the town limits of Spruce Pine or from nary a grocery store. Etymologists need to coin a new word for what we are now — "wet" doesn’t begin to cover it. Spruce Pine passed ordinances allowing alcohol by-the-drink (restaurants and bars), in grocery and convenience stores, and got an ABC permit to sell liquor.
I realized a new era was upon us while outside chatting with a neighbor Tuesday evening — it sounded like the car alarms downtown had all been tripped at the same time. What else could it have signified? "Jane, I think we have alcohol in Spruce Pine."
This departure is a result of a diminished tax base. We lost all our textile mills, most of our furniture manufacturers, some of our mining; for various reasons our agriculture suffered (tobacco, Christmas tree beetle, drought); we’ve had devastating fires that cost lives, displaced businesses and rattled our identity.
Based solely on economics, legal alcohol sales represents about the only thing our little town hasn’t tried. We’re not foolish enough to think it will solve all our problems. But it’s not so much about progress as it is survival. Spruce Pine will always be a wonderful place to raise a family; alcohol won’t change our ethos — we have more character than that. It was already being sold at points all around the township. Maybe the evolution of this process happened precisely the way it should have.
It allowed a slow transition that will avoid sensationalism such a contrast might have otherwise catalyzed. For the most part we’ve proved responsible stewards of that which was previously entrusted to us.
We know, however, there will be eyes of judgment upon us. If mishandled, as our laws allow, these liberties can be revoked, voted back out.
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist, said, "Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism."
The local color commentator says, "Congratulations, Spruce Pine. You’re not going down without a fight. Just maybe you’re not going down at all. But if you do, heck, may as well have a beer."
Article published in the Asheville Citizen Times on March 14, 2009. Gina Phillips is president of the Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation and a partner in Great Meadows, Inc. She is also an actor and director. Her columns appear on alternate Saturdays in the Asheville Citizen Times, Asheville NC.