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Milton approves early alcohol sales

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
January 4, 2012
— It's official. In Milton, the early bird gets the booze.

In a 4-3 vote with Mayor Tom Chesmore casting the tiebreaker, the Milton City Council on Tuesday approved an ordinance that allows Class A retail alcohol sales at 6 a.m.


While one council member argued the change could lead to more widespread availability of alcohol to youth, a majority of the council seemed to believe that protecting local businesses in a rough economy outweighed the issue.


"It's a tough environment out there," Chesmore said. "If people have the chance to make an extra dollar and I don't see a detriment to the community, I'm going to support it."


The move means Milton Piggly Wiggly, Milton Travel Center and Beverage Mart—the city's three businesses with Class A liquor licenses—would have the option to sell alcohol from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. The ordinance still must be published, but it's slated to take effect next week.


The issue came up Dec. 20 after a new state law took effect that allows Class A retail alcohol sales to start at 6 a.m. Milton Piggly Wiggly owner Jason Cowley requested the ordinance amendment.


At the time, the council voted 3-2 to have city staff create an ordinance amendment that would allow 6 a.m. liquor sales.


Under the old law, customers had to wait until 8 a.m. to buy alcohol from licensed retailers.


Cowley, whose store opens at 7 a.m., has said the change would create convenience for customers who shop early in the morning and would be a boon during summer and fall, when tourists are on the move and people are headed to UW-Madison football games.


A similar ordinance was approved in Edgerton in December, and the Janesville City Council could take up a discussion on their version Jan. 9, according to Janesville city officials.


Cowley told the council he would hate to lose early bird customers to stores in Edgerton—or Janesville, if the ordinance is approved there.


Councilwoman Anissa Welch, who opposed the ordinance along with council members David Adams and Maxine Striegl, showed statistics on area youth drinking.


She argued that making alcohol available more hours during the day could increase youth alcohol abuse. Moreover, Welch argued 6 a.m. liquor sales would play into a culture of drinking in Wisconsin and Rock County.


To illustrate her point, she offered a fake tourism slogan: "Come to Milton. We have a splash park and we sell alcohol at 6 a.m."


The decision Tuesday marks a shift in decision-making for Milton officials. The council has had a history of taking a hard-line stance on alcohol sales.


Last June, the council voted to roll back the hours that businesses could sell beer from midnight to 9 p.m. City officials said the change would benefit public safety and would be consistent with closing times of two of the city's three alcohol retailers, and other area municipalities' cutoff time for retail alcohol sales.


Chesmore, who has staunchly opposed expanded alcohol sales, acknowledged Tuesday's decision appears to be a softened stance by the council.


Chesmore told the Gazette Tuesday night that he believes few youths will try to buy alcohol early in the morning, and that most people who'd buy alcohol early in the morning would do so as part of their shopping routine. He doubts that many would be late-night partiers.


Chesmore says he'd still draw a line in the sand when it comes to extending alcohol retail sales late at night.


"We've made it pretty clear we're not going to let anyone sell it later," he said.


Council members Nancy Lader and Brett Frazier voted in favor of the ordinance, as did Don Vruwink, a former teacher at Milton High School.


"I want to support our small businesses," Vruwink said. "I know how tough it is and what the margins are. You're always fighting against the big corporations who can buy things cheaper. I want to make sure our stores prosper."



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