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OPINION: Does Mitchell need sidewalk wine?

The subject of sidewalk sale of wine in Mitchell will be on the ballot in the upcoming election Tuesday, June 3. When the City Council attempted a couple years ago to open up Mitchell's downtown area to sales of all kinds of alcohol on the city sidewalks, arguments from the public against the idea convinced the council to reverse its position and the plan was dropped. The local newspaper scolded the council for yielding to the pressure of those citizens who spoke against it.

Last year the plan was restructured to allow sale of only wine on the sidewalk. But for that to sound like it made sense, the arguments also were revamped. This time the plan was to make Mitchell a little Sioux Falls or a little Paris, with cute little wine-sipping sidewalk cafes. The emphasis shifted from free enterprise for local businesses to a magic bullet to save the downtown Main Street.

Following the City Council's vote to allow the sidewalk wine sales, hundreds of citizens in Mitchell signed petitions to bring the issue to a vote of the people in the next citywide election, which is coming up in a few days. But something interesting happened over the last year. When the Chamber of Commerce and The Daily Republic tried to stir up some excitement over the issue, they found that the principal beneficiaries of the ordinance, the downtown cafes, weren't interested in discussing it. So The Daily Republic, so far, seems to be the only participant carrying the ball for sidewalk wine.

Our position has always been that we do not need any more emphasis on alcohol in our community. We have had several high-profile, alcohol-related tragedies in our area in recent years. The public gets upset (rightfully so) and cries, "What can we do to stop this?" But soon the memory fades, life gets back to normal, and we forget. And the next thing we think of is, "Let's build our economy on alcohol."

The editorial in The Daily Republic on Friday lays out a step-by-step success story about the revitalization of downtown Sioux Falls with sculpture walks, window shopping, outdoor music performances, enjoying the historic ambiance, having a leisurely lunch — all predicated on the access to sidewalk drinking. (One might wonder if the taxpayers of Sioux Falls have forgotten the millions of dollars spent on other projects to revitalize their downtown other than the allowance of drinking on the sidewalk). But we are told that what makes Sioux Falls successful and what holds back Mitchell is that it is against the law to drink on our sidewalks, but it is legal in Sioux Falls.

I travel around the country quite a bit, maybe not as much as some, but with 10 grown children having gone to college all over the country and now living all over, I have been around. When I travel, I hand out invitations to come visit us in Mitchell. I am probably one of the most avid unpaid promoters of Mitchell that our fair city has. What I have found is that, from Washington, D.C., to Arizona, Seattle to Florida, Michigan to Laredo, people all over the country have heard of Mitchell, S.D., the Corn Palace place. But, you know, not once has anyone ever said, "Oh, yes. I have heard of Mitchell, S.D., the place where people cannot drink wine on the sidewalk."

Certainly there are many good minds in Mitchell that could come up with better ideas for building our downtown and promoting our city. As The Daily Republic stated, "There is really only one thing this ordinance would do. It would move some downtown wine drinkers from the indoor side of a restaurant wall to the outdoor side of the wall." If we are pinning our future on this, we are aiming quite low. Mitchell needs to look higher than this.

I would encourage Mitchell voters to vote against the sidewalk wine.