7/13 Pouring no problem

MONMOUTH -- Ray Stratton said it doesn't seem that long ago that he was running around Monmouth with a clipboard, trying to gather signatures in an attempt to end the city's longtime ban against hard



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Bartender Jen Kirk prepares a drink for a customer on Friday, July 8, at Main Street Pub & Eatery in Monmouth.

MONMOUTH -- Ray Stratton said it doesn't seem that long ago that he was running around Monmouth with a clipboard, trying to gather signatures in an attempt to end the city's longtime ban against hard liquor.

Stratton, proprietor of Main Street Pub & Eatery, was perhaps the loudest voice when it came to lobbying for the sale of spirits here in 2010. Voters eventually approved the change.

Stratton had actually planned an anniversary party of the first drink in his bar on June 28. But a fire that gutted neighboring Real Taste of India and damaged his business the day before stymied the event.

"We were going to have some of our liquor representatives come out and do a giveaway for our regulars," Stratton said, disappointed. "We'll still have to talk about it."

It's been more than a year since Monmouth's alcohol prohibition came to a complete end.

Has much changed? That depends on who you ask -- and whether you're talking Monmouth or the effects on neighboring Independence.

Here are the basics: Bar owners in Monmouth have seen jumps in sales, while interest from prospective businesses that might sell alcohol has been sparse to date.

Monmouth police have noticed a slight uptick in criminal activity related to alcohol. Counterparts in Independence have watched crime around bars drop.

"I don't think it's as significant as when the law was changed to allow the sale of beer and wine," said Cec Koontz, one of the chief petitioners. "And we never expected there to be tremendous change in one year because of the economy.

"But as far as attracting future businesses, it makes things possible," added Koontz, who's also a city councilor. "We had a barrier before and now we don't."

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Local bars are the obvious beneficiaries. Stratton said his sales between June 2010 and June 2011 are up nearly 30 percent because of hard liquor.

"Before, we just weren't generating the revenue," Stratton said. "We might have had to focus on just being a tavern, but we wanted to keep a kitchen ... and now we're talking about expanding."

Alex Trevino, owner of Rookies Pub, said his sales are also up, perhaps 20 to 25 percent. He's also seeing more female customers.

"Women come out with their girlfriends, they want cocktails, and if you don't serve that, they end up in Salem," Trevino said. "This helps keep that money in the community."

City officials said they haven't received inquiries from parties interested in establishing restaurants here following the law change -- save one.

The Nine Lounge on Main Street is in the midst of a soft opening, said its owner, Soethura Naing. His establishment will be a restaurant and club that will feature live entertainment. By fall, it will also serve beer, wine, sake and spirits, Naing said.

The end of prohibition has only modestly affected crime, said Monmouth Police Chief Darrell Tallan.

There have been slightly more calls at Main Street Pub

than before and the city has had more instances than normal of urinating in public, mostly related to crowding at bars, according to police records.

"We saw a big difference after 2002, when beer sales were legal," Tallan said. "There aren't many places here that sell hard liquor, and I think the bar owners have done a good job with the transition."

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Monmouth completely shedding its dry status has, meanwhile, been felt next door in Independence.

Independence Police Chief Vern Wells said his department has seen a significant decline in alcohol-related disturbances connected with that city's bars.

The number of reported incidents between June 2010 and June 2011 was about half of what it was during that same period the previous year, according to records.

Wells opined that stems from closure of Lenora's Ghost, a spot once popular with Western Oregon University students that also generated many calls for service.

Trevino owns the Ragin' River Steak Co. on Main Street in Independence. Trevino said he believes Monmouth allowing hard liquor has caused college-age foot traffic for Independence's downtown watering holes to dwindle.

"I used to see kids come down here after classes for drinks at the bars, you would see them from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. some days," he said. "That activity isn't there any more."

Jennifer Goodman, former Lenora's Ghost co-owner, contended that reasons both "personal and economic" led to her establishment shutting down.

"I'm not sure if Monmouth had a direct effect on why we closed," she said. "It's hard to say."

Dominique Skief, who manages the kitchen at Chase Bar and Grill on Monmouth Street, said he's noticed "a little loss" in business.

That has more to do with more restaurants opening in both cities, however, than Monmouth's alcohol law, Skief said.

"In a shortsighted way, maybe you could say it's hurt us -- being the wet town that was next to the dry town," said Shawn Irvine, Independence economic development director.

"Long term, it's beneficial to have more choices in the same area," Irvine continued. "People who want to go out ... you're keeping them here instead of going to Dallas or Salem."



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