By Ed Brock
For Otis Pruitt, being denied a liquor license by the city of Jonesboro meant the end of his business.
"I have the business up for sale now. I can't make it," said 64-year-old Pruitt, owner of Diamond Pizza and Hot Wings on North Main Street. "If somebody has beer they can make it."
Lisa Ison, owner of Harold's Barbecue on Ga. Highway 54 just north of Ga. Highway 138, may be required to perform expensive remodeling to her building in order to qualify for the license to serve alcohol. She says it's worthwhile.
"A lot of people tell me that when they get off work and go to get dinner, they want a beer with dinner," Ison said.
Ison and Pruitt were the first business owners to apply for a liquor license since the city began allowing alcohol by the drink sales earlier this year. During its regular monthly meeting on Monday night the Jonesboro City Council voted to deny Pruitt's application and tabled Ison's until next month's meeting, Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker said.
In Pruitt's case, Walker said the application was denied because Pruitt, while doing business in the city as the owner of Diamond Pawn shop, "necessitated unusual law enforcement observation."
More specifically, Pruitt's business was cited several times and fined for violations such as having pawn articles without serial numbers, failure to file daily reports with the city's police department and violation of permitted use in a commercial district.
Pruitt said the violations were all do to clerical errors, such as listing model numbers as serial numbers or misplacing pawn tickets, and he has a clean criminal record.
"I never had a speeding ticket in this town," Pruitt said.
Pruitt said he's operated a pawn shop in the county for 25 years and in the city for 18 years. He opened the pizza shop three years ago and spent $40,000 expanding and remodeling the business on the expectation that he would be allowed to serve beer with his pizza slices.
Now he says he's going to retire.
Ison's application was tabled so the council could consider the distance required by state law between the restaurant's front door and the property line of the Church of God of Prophecy next door, Walker said. That law requires a separation of 100 yards between the two points.
"We're shy 13 yards," Ison said.
Ison said she plans to move the front door to the side of the building furthest from the church property in order to meet the requirements, but it will cost some money.
"The new addition is not going to be just thrown up there," Ison said. "It's going to be thought out to match the character of the building."
Ison insists that she runs a restaurant and is not turning into a bar. The Rev. Gary Lewis with the Church of God of Prophecy said he wishes the best for Ison's business.
He just hopes she can succeed without selling alcohol.
Lewis said the church is against the issuance of a liquor license to Harold's Barbecue because of the 100 yard buffer that is meant to protect churches in the state. He doesn't like the way the law is being applied with the measurement from the front door of a business to the church property.
In some circumstances that could allow an establishment that sells alcohol to be located right next door so long as the front door is 100 yards away.
"To me that's not the intent of the law," Lewis said.
Church members are also concerned about the effect alcohol sales would have on the community, Lewis said. In the neighborhood behind the church and the restaurant police responded to more than 400 calls last year, he said, many of which were related to alcohol.
"I don't see how dispensing more alcohol will help those numbers go down," Lewis said.
Voters approved the liquor sales last year in a referendum.