Some of Hilton Head Island's liquor store owners are feeling as if town officials don't care about their success.
Proposed changes to the town's land-use management plan that regulates growth and development includes the elimination of the long-standing requirement that liquor stores be at least 500 feet from each other.
Liquor store owners worry the change could lead to an influx of new companies selling alcohol, including large chains that sell for lower prices. The end result that they fear: The new competition will drown them out of business.
We appreciate the concerns of these store owners, most of whom are small business owners who set up their shops anticipating the rule would remain in effect in perpetuity. But just as tax rates change, zoning rules are altered and that big empty field next door gets developed, there's no guarantee that the rules and designations of yesterday will be here tomorrow.
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And on principle, we do not think the rule should have ever been on the books in the first place. No one type of business should be singled out for special protection. The island's 13 liquor stores have been very lucky to enjoy this safeguard for so long. But just because it has existed for a long time does not mean it should exist in the future, particularly since the town has rightly decided that redevelopment is a necessity to keep the tourists coming and is looking to slash zoning rules that restrict the free market.
As Town Councilman Lee Edwards, who owns The Greenery landscaping company, said, "If we could change (the rules) to separate landscape companies so no more would come to the island, I would love that." All businesses on the island would want the same. But it's better to let the marketplace work.
Besides, it's unlikely that a tide of new liquor stores will roll into town. On such a small island, it's difficult to believe that many more than the 13 current stores could survive. It would make no business sense for a new store to set up shop next door to an existing one. And the town's zoning requirements and rigorous approval process put impediments in the way of big-box retailers, such as Green's Warehouse Discount Beverages, from coming to town.
The 500-feet rule was created, like many other town rules, out of fear -- fear that Hilton Head might develop in an unsavory way, overrun by liquor stores and other unwanted development. Now with so much of the island developed and a clear aesthetic in place, we doubt it will be jeopardized whether the rule remains on the books or not.
Updates to the town's land-use management plan are a must to encourage new businesses to locate here, to convince existing businesses to update and to keep tourism dollars flowing into our community. It's also an opportunity to delete fear-based rules that unfairly restrict competition. Let's not miss the chance to do it.