By Justin Boron

The Jonesboro City Council's approval of a liquor-by-the-drink ordinance on September 13 can't come soon enough for Harold's Barbecue.

Jonesboro is a near ghost town for the restaurant business, and the ordinance could be the city's savior, said Lisa Ison, who owns of Harold's Barbecue on Jonesboro Road.

The union of food and spirits comes to the relief of the Jonesboro business owner, who said alcohol sales have played a large role in the way restaurants of neighboring cities have siphoned business from the dry town.

"Right now everybody's going to Stockbridge for dining," Ison said.

Business owners and local government officials hope the ordinance will reverse the flow of restaurant revenue heading out of Jonesboro and landing in chain restaurant hubs, like Morrow and Stockbridge, where alcohol can be served.

The prospect of alcohol in Jonesboro stems from a livable centers study that suggested a liquor-by-the-drink ordinance would improve the community's restaurant industry, said City Manager Jon Walker.

In a July 20 referendum, Jonesboro citizens voted to permit alcohol sales in restaurants by a vote of 128-58, sending the message of popular support needed to draft the ordinance.

The ordinance aims to create more of a fine dining experience in Jonesboro while keeping the city's waning food and beverage dollars from leaving the city limits, Walker said.

Business at Harold's Barbecue tapered off after the county courthouse moved to Highway 19/41, Ison said. Meanwhile the restaurants in Morrow, Stockbridge, and Riverdale have continued enticing Jonesboro residents out of their own community for food and entertainment.

Leveling the playing field with restaurants in surrounding areas, alcohol service in Jonesboro also will afford Harold's Barbecue more entertainment opportunities that she said would attract a younger, more hip crowd.

Despite adding televisions and lining its walls with rock ?n' roll paraphernalia, the current clientele at Harold's Barbecue averages about 40-years old, Ison said.

Twenty-somethings, she said, are the demographic that the 14-year old barbecue establishment has missed in its efforts to revamp n beer might be the missing key.

"I'm trying to make this a happening place," she said. "If I can serve alcohol I can do a lot more promotional events like karaoke or amateur comedy night."

The owner of My Sister's Place said her restaurant is also poised for its first pour.

"My Sister's will be a place that Jonesboro residents can go for a glass of wine or beer without having to go outside of the city," said Dallas Matthews, owner of the home-cooking style restaurant on Stockbridge Road.

Both restaurant owners said they wouldn't sell hard liquor because of the increased liability and difficulty in monitoring a reasonable level of consumption.

Although no organized opposition to the ordinance was apparent before the referendum, the executive pastor at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro, Lanny Loe said he had some problems with the ordinance.

"In theory, I would oppose alcohol sales in Jonesboro," he said. "We don't need liquor and beer to make us more attractive to business and families."

Even if it is allowing alcohol to make its entrance into Jonesboro, the city government is still taking preemptive measures against full-scale bars by requiring a 70-30 ratio of food to alcohol sales, Walker said.

However, the ratio is still subject to change until the City Council passes the ordinance, he said.

Applications for licenses to sell beer, wine, and hard liquor would be available on Sept. 14, Walker said.

Whether alcohol sales will revive the restaurant industry in Jonesboro remains to be seen.

But Ison was sure the marriage of food and spirits would be a positive one for her restaurant.

"There's nothing better than barbecue and beer," she said.