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Business owners say liquor referendum would put Trenton on ‘level playing field’

By Crystal Burns

Trenton business owners looking to boost the downtown area have successfully put consumption on the premises, more commonly known as liquor by the drink, referendum on the ballot for the Nov. 6 city election.

Wally Vernon, owner of Roosevelt Hall, and Bob Wilson, owner of Rosato’s, say they worked independently but parallel to collect signatures on petitions that got the measure on the ballot. Both men said allowing Trenton restaurants to sell wine and/or liquor for on premise consumption puts the city on a level playing ground with other nearby towns.

Vernon plans to open a more upscale restaurant in the former Keathley Studio that would include a sports bar and microbrewery upstairs. Vernon’s vision for downtown Trenton is based on recent revitalization efforts that have breathed new life into downtown Franklin near Nashville.

“Trenton has a really pretty downtown,” Vernon said.

His Roosevelt Hall is a 9,000 sq. ft. event center. Keathley Studio offers 4,500 sq. ft. that Vernon hopes to transform into a farm-to-table type gastropub that would help keep tax dollars in Trenton.

“We want to see Trenton grow,” Vernon said.

Vernon said the key to getting younger people to move into Trenton is to offer places that are interesting and fun, which he said is hard to do if restaurants can’t serve liquor by the drink.

“We don’t want to miss out on what other towns are able to do,” Vernon said.

Vernon said it wasn’t difficult to get the signatures needed for the referendum, and that while he respects differing opinions on alcohol consumption based on religious beliefs, he thinks the measure is a “common sense financial decision.”

“I’m confident it will pass,” Vernon said.

Wilson, owner of Rosato’s restaurant in downtown Trenton, agreed that “it’s strictly economics” and “desperately needed” to “make Trenton happen.”

“It’s got to be competitive with Jackson,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s son Bryan, proprietor of Rosato’s has a permit to sell beer at Rosato’s and would like to add a wine permit.

“If it doesn’t pass on this ballot, it’s four years before you can try again,” Wilson noted. “It’s got to go. It’s time.”

Gibson County Elections Administrator Julieanne Hart said 106 signatures, which was 10 percent of Trenton voters that voted in the 2014 governor’s race, were required to put liquor by the drink on the ballot. A simple majority is needed for it to pass.

Early voting begins Oct. 17 and ends Nov. 1. Sample ballots for the state, Bradford city and Trenton city elections are inside this issue.

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