Election 2016

Campaign To Keep Houston Heights Dry Emerges

It’s an uphill battle against the HEB-sponsored campaign to loosen a century-old ban on alcohol sales.

Photo of Bill Baldwin
Bill Baldwin leads the effort against Houston Proposition 1, which would legalize the sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption in the former city of Houston Heights.

If Houston Proposition 1 passes on Nov. 8, the former city of Houston Heights will still be a dry area. But it will allow for the sale of beer and wine in grocery or convenience stores.

HEB is pushing the campaign to pass the referendum because it wants to build a store here, and beer and wine are the retailer’s top sellers.

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

Houston Public Media's Coverage of Election 2016

On the ballot, about 10,000 voters will be asked to vote for or against “The legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption only” in the “area formerly known as the City of Houston Heights as it existed on February 19, 1918.”

About 1,700 residents already indicated that they would vote for it when they signed a petition that got the proposition on the ballot.

But some want to keep that part of the Heights “weird and dry,” as they say.

“Why do you think on the other side of I-10, there’s a Target and a Sprouts and a Walmart and all that development?” asked Bill Baldwin, a co-founder of Keep the Heights Dry, the campaign against Prop. 1.

He’s quick to point out he regularly buys beer and wine himself. But he’s worried that the ordinance would substantially change the historical area because it would lead to gas stations and major grocery stores opening here, which he said would also lead to additional traffic.

“I’m not saying tomorrow that 42 gas stations are going to move up and down Heights Boulevard,” he said. “But I will tell you without the protection that has kept them out for 104 years, you no longer have that protection.”

Baldwin also fears that the change would be a slippery slope to get rid of the 1912 ordinance altogether and that liquor and on-premise consumption would soon follow.

Steve Reilly, who leads the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition, which advocates for a yes vote, said they are increasing their outreach now that there’s an organized opposition.

He doubts that Prop. 1 would lead to many more convenience stores in the area.

“Regulations and market demand are going to mean that that’s just a fear that is not based in reality,” he said.

Reilly argues that having a new HEB might actually discourage convenience stores from opening up in the area because they’d be unable to compete with a big grocery store. And he believes it won’t increase traffic since people are already driving out of the dry zone to go shopping.

There are some convenience stores and an old Kroger in the dry zone. But other grocery stores have closed down because they didn’t make a big enough profit. That’s fine with Baldwin.

“And I feel like anyone in the dry area can go about a half a mile or five minutes and gain plenty of access to off-premise beer and wine,” he said.

Baldwin admits the deck is stacked against his group’s effort, since the other side has the financial backing and influence of HEB.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been changed to more accurately reflect Steve Reilly’s description of how an HEB store would impact convenience stores in the Heights.

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters and the Houston Press Club. Florian is a native of Germany. His studies...

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