Liquor proponents keep spirits up

Signature drive in Monmouth seeks to legalize restaurant cocktail sales in once-dry town



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Main Street Pub & Eatery bartenders Nici Wright (left) and Shari Bartel are encouraging customers to sign a petition to help repeal a city ban on the sale of hard alcohol.

MONMOUTH -- If you happen to be inside Main Street Pub & Eatery within the next few weeks, owner Ray Stratton wants you to leave something extra with your meal.

A signature.

Not on your tab, but a petition to put a measure on the spring ballot to allow hard liquor sales in Monmouth.

Stratton, a proponent of an effort by chief petitioner Cec Koontz, said he has a stake in fully repealing the city's alcohol laws so he can expand his business beyond just a "tavern."

So he started displaying petitions in his establishment last week, and has been lobbying other proprietors to do the same.

"I think the community is ready for" ending restrictions, Stratton said. "There was opposition to beer before, but that was because of the heritage of the law ... now that we've got beer and wine, we might as well go the whole nine."

The "Martinis for Monmouth" initiative petition was approved in mid-September. Koontz and co-petitioner Dave Sherman have until Dec. 16 to gather 659 signatures for the measure to qualify for the spring 2010 election ballot.

But the process isn't going as smoothly as hoped for, Koontz said. Halfway through the 90-day window for signature collection, she and Sherman had only about 80 takers.

Work and other business ventures, and a lack of volunteer signature-gatherers, have kept the duo from doing much canvassing in Monmouth neighborhoods, she said.

And visits to the Western Oregon University campus or local bars for signatures have yielded surprisingly few; students are supportive of the proposal, but most aren't registered to vote in Polk County, she said.

"We underestimated the process," Koontz said. "I know I did."

After hearing about Koontz's difficulties, Stratton decided to start spreading the word himself because of the effect it could have on his business.

When he opened his pub in Monmouth last year, he intended to expand it to resemble his North Dallas Bar and Grill restaurant.

Being able to sell cocktails would boost revenue to remodel and install a bigger kitchen, he said.

"We've maxed our revenue potential as a bar," he said. "We need more money ... to offer the dining the community wants."

Stratton originally planned to spearhead a petition himself, but Koontz and Sherman beat him to the punch, he said.

He went door-to-door in Monmouth, asking businesses to back the petition and advertise it to customers, he said. "Everyone I've talked to has said, 'Yeah, I would love to,'" he added.

Koontz had 100 signatures as of Oct. 29. She said Stratton managed to bring the count up from 80 to 100 in an afternoon.

"I still think getting the measure on the ballot is very doable," Koontz said, adding Stratton has given the process a needed "kick start."

Stratton said he is seeking other avenues, such as liquor industry backing, to get the word out about the petition.

One close-to-home idea utilizes his cooks and waitresses at Main Street Pub; they have a competition among them to see who can gather the most signatures from customers and friends.

"Whoever gets the most will get some incentives," he said. "They're all excited about it."

How to join drive for signatures:

Registered voters in Monmouth can volunteer in the signature gathering process to place a measure permitting the local sale of hard alcohol on the spring ballot by contacting Cec Koontz at 503-838-0601 or searching for "Martinis for Monmouth" on Facebook. Petitions are available at Monmouth Main Street Pub & Eatery, 169 Main St. W.



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