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Riley says no more Sunday alcohol sales by state

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press Writer

BIRMINGHAM — An experiment by Alabama’s liquor control agency to sell booze at state-owned stores on Sundays drew a Bible Belt backlash and came to an abrupt end Tuesday.

Gov. Bob Riley said the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board will revert to its traditional practice of shuttering its stores on Sundays, a decision made after the agency broke a longstanding taboo and opened a store in Birmingham last Sunday.

An influential Baptist group took notice, and so did Alabama’s Republican governor.

“I think the standard that ABC has operated on for decades is the best one for the state,” Riley told reporters at an appearance in Montgomery.

The governor’s decision put an end to what ABC administrator Emory Folmar described as plans to possibly open other state-owned liquor stores on future Sundays to coincide with major events like NASCAR races in Talladega or the Regions Charity Classic, a Champions Tour golf tournament played annually in suburban Birmingham.

Speaking in an interview Monday, Folmar said board members decided to open a downtown Birmingham store last Sunday in conjunction with the annual Magic City Classic football game between Alabama A&M University and Alabama State University, which drew nearly 69,000 fans to Legion Field on Saturday.

Alcohol sales by private stores are legal in parts of Alabama on Sunday, including Birmingham, and Folmar said the board approved opening the state-run store without opposition from lawmakers on a legislative review committee.

Folmar said the Birmingham store was opened at the special request of “many” legislators because of the large crowd in town for the game. He refused to say who specifically sought the opening of the store, located at the base of an exit ramp off Interstate 65.

“I don’t tell when people asked me something in confidence,” said Folmar. “I was asked to do it, and I did it. It was a convenience to the people.”

Riley said he did not know about the special opening of the store beforehand. But the Rev. Dan Ireland, head of a Baptist group that calls itself “Alabama’s moral compass,” called Riley personally to complain on Monday.

Ireland said Folmar’s justification for opening the store at special request was “ridiculous” since the football game was played on Saturday and most fans were gone by Sunday.

“It’s a step in the wrong direction. The general public is not knocking down doors to purchase liquor on Sunday,” said Ireland, executive director of the Southern Baptist-affiliated Alabama Citizens Action Program.

Riley, himself a Southern Baptist, said he called Folmar after learning the state liquor store had been opened on a traditional day of worship.

“I thought Emory Folmar, who is probably the best administrator we’ve ever had at ABC, had a reason. I called him on Tuesday and asked him why,” said Riley. “We had a long discussion and decided to go back to the traditional policy.”

The executive director of a downtown homeless shelter that serves scores of people with alcohol or drug addictions in Birmingham said he was unaware that a state store had opened on Sunday, but he said he’d prefer state stores remain closed for “the Lord’s day.”

“Any day they’re closed is a good day,” said Tony Cooper, director of the Jimmie Hale Mission.

Folmar, a former Montgomery mayor and longtime GOP leader, said a “whole bunch” of private liquor stores are open in Birmingham on any given Sunday, and he claimed those owners were behind opposition to Sunday liquor sales by the state, which sold $325 million in liquor last year.

Folmar said the state store open on Sunday sold $3,500 in alcohol that day, an amount he described as good.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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