Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gulf Breeze Booze Rebuke

Veteran Letter-to-the-Editor writer John Shuster of Gulf Breeze doubtless raised a lot of eyebrows this morning with his latest missive, to which the Pensacola News Journal assigned the headline, "Publix Above the Law on Liquor Restrictions?"

As usual in such forums, however, there is less here than meets the eye.

The letter is referring to the new Publix supermarket which opened a couple of weeks ago in Gulf Breeze Proper. The store includes acres and acres of... Well, okay, two or three aisles of wine, beer, and hard liquor for sale.

But Shuster's complaint is a beaut:
Remember the wet/dry vote for Santa Rosa County? We voted wet, but with restrictions.

That means if you were lucky enough to get one of the liquor licenses from the lottery you could open a liquor store in Santa Rosa County no less than 2,000 feet from a school or church. License holders were scrambling in Gulf Breeze to find a suitable location. The closest location by law was established just east of Villa Venyce, past Gulf Islands National Seashore.

How is it, then, that the new Publix grocery store in Gulf Breeze proper, across the street from three schools and 200 yards from the Catholic Church, can have a full liquor store?

I was told that "as long as we don't have a sign on the store it passed the law." If I was a liquor store owner down the highway, I would be ticked.
As it happens, there were some liquor store owners who were 'ticked.' Wayne Wheatley of Pensacola Beach and Gulf Breeze was one.

As the Gulf Breeze News explained a year ago, this week, when Publix went before the Gulf Breeze City Council to ask for a zoning variance, Wheatley spoke in opposition:
"No one is here from the school system across the street, No one is here from the churches next door, no one is here from the police department.

"I think the logic behind the ordinance is to not subject children and churches to liquor sales. This property is bordered on three sides by either churches or schools."

At the time, we are told, Wheatley was planning to open a tackle shop "at the base of The Three Mile Bridge." Tackle shops, as we all know, must sell beer and other libations. It's one of the Ten Commandments or a federal law, or something. So his complaint really could not have been based on moral objections to selling alcohol, per se.

The zoning variance was approved on May 21, 2007, over the single dissenting vote of councilman Richard Fulford. You can read the minutes here.

End of story? Not quite. A part of the news story that ran in the Gulf Breeze News at the time that we liked well enough to remember all these many months was reporter Vici Papajohn's casual observation, "Wheatley's son and wife also spoke against the variance."

Maybe it's because we read too much flash fiction, but those nine little words in that simple sentence struck us as pregnant with possibilities. They fired our imagination with visions of a lad not unlike a barefoot Huckleberry Finn, bamboo pole slung over one shoulder, standing before the solemn suits of the City Council to speak up for his Pa. And the wife, like some woe-weighted character from a Flannery O'Connor novel -- Bailey's nameless grandmother, perhaps, in "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" dressed in her "navy blue straw sailor hat with a bunch of white violets on the brim" -- defiantly staring down the 'Misfits' of the City Council even as she knows in her heart it's all preordained to come to a tragic end.

The truth is, Publix executives could have asked the Gulf Breeze City Council for a zoning variance to sell Absynthe from the pulpit of the nearest church and pipe it through the water fountains of the high school across the street and the city council would not have denied them.

It's just in the nature of the beast.

Again, from Flannery O'Connor:
"She was a talker, wasn't she?" Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.

"She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

"Some fun!" Bobby Lee said.

"Shut up, Bobby Lee," The Misfit said. "It's no real pleasure in life."

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