Former residents could not believe their eyes when Norman Potter opened The Bru Thru Bottle Shop at 1905 Business U.S. Highway 190.
They used cellphones to take videos and pictures of the first liquor store in the city.
Some believed the sale of liquor would never happen here.
Because of the passage by voters of a liquor proposal in November, there are a number of new businesses selling liquor and restaurants mixing drinks in Cove.
Six stores now have packaged liquor licenses, including The Bru Thru Bottle Shop; Cove Liquor King, 504 N. First St.; Mighty Mart, 1618 Veterans Ave., suite B; Smart Liquor, 2202 Business U.S. Highway 190; Twin Liquors, 232 Robert Griffin III Blvd.; and Uptown Liquor 2, at 1202 E. Business U.S. Highway 190.
Potter was one of the first to sell liquor in the town that was dry until 2005 — when voters approved the sale of beer and wine.
“We have been in business for 20 years this August,” Potter said. “We have changed with the times. It was a convenience store that rented videos at one time.”
For a couple of weeks, Potter said he was the only liquor store in town. Today, he said he is building business in the area because of the liquor store.
Residents such as Mitchell Lofton, local business owners from Frames and More, Potter and others began circulating petitions more than four years ago. Some noted it was a matter of keeping money local and others said it would help to offset tax increases.
Potter believes both were important in the decision to go after a proposal allowing the sale of liquor in November.
The proposal passed by a 4-to-1 margin.
“The number one concern was for residents in the town,” Potter said. “If the proposal passed, residents wouldn’t have to go elsewhere to purchase liquor. We also keep more tax money in town.”
Lofton and Potter believed residents were traveling to Killeen or Lampasas for liquor.
“It was all about the sales tax revenue,” Lofton said, “It was unfair for home-owners to have to continue to pay tax increases.
“This is something that could offset that.”
Lofton helped lead the charge — with more than two dozen others — as the leader of the business-oriented group called The Network. Their goal in passing the liquor proposal was to increase sales tax numbers in Copperas Cove, not in other cities.
Numbers from the Texas Comptroller over the last two months support those claims. Sales tax from June 7 through Aug. 9 are up 4.34 percent. The year-to-date numbers are up 6.35 percent.
Although the increase in sales tax numbers the past two months can’t all be associated with the sale of liquor and alcohol, it helps, according to Lofton.
“People voted ‘yes’ because they knew how important it was to the city,” Lofton said. “The issue had nothing to do with drinking. They understood that it meant tax revenue.”
Third time a charm
Lofton and a group of 25 other business owners and residents began to circulate petitions to put the matter of selling liquor in town more than four years ago.
A petition drive in 2014 came up a couple of valid signatures short.
The group ran out of time in 2015.
But then they got smart.
“I wasn’t going to try it again in 2016, but was urged on by supporters,” Lofton said. “Our cry was ‘third time a charm.’”
When the organization started the third attempt, it received voter registration lists and put all that information on iPads and worked to get about 1,400 signatures.
The first weekend of collecting signatures, the group gathered 500 signatures.
“At that point we knew it was going to be good enough to put on the ballot,” Lofton said.
When the matter passed by a 4-to-1 on Nov. 8, Lofton could not believe it.
“I was blown away by the results,” Lofton said. “I was refereeing a basketball game, but could not get any (phone) service in the gymnasium.”
When he moved to a place where he could get service, Lofton was pumped up as “yes” votes began to pile up.
Today, The Network is less active but Lofton said the group still has an ongoing presence in the city.
With more alcohol in town, it would seem to make sense that DWI numbers would be going up. That is partially true. Numbers from the police department show the number of DWI arrests since Jan. 1 are averaging 8.75 per month.
That is up from 6.4 arrests per month in 2016 and 5.75 per month in 2015.
Those numbers are nothing like statistics from seven or eight years ago. According to the annual report from police, 246 people were arrested for DWI in 2009 and 221 in 2010.
“We had officer shortages for two years in the patrol division,” Sgt. Martin Ruiz said. “That may account for some of the lower numbers.”
Ruiz, who serves as the community relations representative for the police department, said special patrols are added near Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
“We put four or five officers for the overnight and early morning hours for those holidays,” Ruiz said. “We do go to bars, but do not perform liquor inspections.”
The sergeant said the department patrols the area, but does not sit outside of liquor stores looking for drunken drivers.
All applications go through the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, but staff members of the city determine if the location for the license meets the city’s requirements to sell/consume liquor within the city. The location must be within the boundaries of the city and in a “wet area” for such license permits.
State licenses and permits can cost up to $6,202 for a two-year period based on the type necessary.
Cove Liquor King manager Asif Prasla said the business opened in 2017 because of the passage of the new liquor proposal. The company takes up nearly one-third of a building on North First Street.
“Business has been good,” Prasla said.
Others are hoping the availability of liquor and mixed drinks will lead to more restaurants in the area.
Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar and Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria are two existing businesses that purchased mixed-beverage permits.
There are currently no pending liquor or mixed-beverage permits in the city, according to TABC reports.