Historic East Texas Town Approves Beer and Wine Sales

Published November 1, 2004

Residents of picturesque Palestine, Texas went to the polls on September 11 and approved, by a 52 to 48 percent vote, the “legal sales of beer and wine for off-premises consumption only” throughout the town.

Parts of conservative Palestine have been open for the sale of beer and wine since the early 1960s, but areas added to the town since then were not automatically allowed to sell alcohol.

A group calling itself “Progress for Palestine” organized and collected more than 1,500 signatures to call for a vote on the issue, according to spokesman Steve Sussdorf.

“It’s not [only] about the sale of alcohol, it’s about fair play and economic development,” Sussdorf told Megan Middleton, a staff reporter with the Morning Telegraph in nearby Tyler. “I feel like now it will open Palestine up more to other grocery stores, to other restaurants, and that, in turn, will bring other people and help our town grow.”

City’s Been “Wet” Since 1960s

Sussdorf said in an interview with the Telegraph that Palestine voted to go “wet” in the 1960s, meaning the sale of alcohol would be allowed. But he said he discovered as the city expanded its boundaries, newer areas were not automatically “wet.”

“I found out that as a city grows, just because they were voted wet to begin with at a certain time, any new annexation or additions to the city came in as dry,” he said. “They do not automatically go wet. We are doing this election to open up the new part of town … to an equal footing with the old part of town,” he said.

Sussdorf is in the real estate business. He told Morning Telegraph reporter Middleton he had encountered clients, primarily convenience and grocery stores, that would not locate in Palestine because “for every dollar that is lost on beer and wine sales, they lose three dollars on groceries.”

“We lose a lot of dollars of our money to Tyler,” he said.

“Southern Belle” of Texas

Palestine is the county seat of Anderson County, some 108 miles southeast of Dallas and 150 miles north of Houston, with a population of about 20,000, according to the 2000 census.

The town features numerous restored Victorian-style houses, yards landscaped with magnolia and dogwood trees, and downtown specialty shops and antiques stores in buildings that date from the early 1800s.

Palestine was the early home of Daniel Parker, who established the Pilgrim Church in Texas in 1833. The town has stayed close to its Baptist roots since then, which is why the community was alcohol-free until the 1960s.

John W. Skorburg ([email protected]) is associate editor of Budget & Tax News.