More than 100 years ago, the Heights was its own city, a planned community with many forward-thinking features that made it different from Houston. In the days before it was absorbed by the larger city, its residents decided that they didn't want alcohol sold within the Heights, so even after prohibition was repealed, the area with boundaries roughly between Oxford, North Durham, I-10 and the North Loop has remained "dry." A few businesses have skirted the ban on alcohol sales by creating "drinking clubs," a loophole allowing places to legally sell booze.
I lived in the Heights area for nearly two decades, and was rarely reminded that the old neighborhood was dry, because I rarely bought alcohol, and there are plenty of places to buy it just outside the prohibited area. I'd forget, and find myself fruitlessly searching for the beer section at one of the stores within that "no fun" zone, and then remember that I wasn't going to find what I was looking for. On one of those occasions, a convenience store I ambled into didn't have the six-pack I'd stopped to get, but featured three 8-liner machines right up front. I guess illegal gambling was okay, but beer isn't for some reason.
Recently, H-E-B announced that it wants to open a location in the Heights, something that most residents would probably welcome, as the neighborhood doesn't present a huge number of great grocery options at the moment. But there's a catch:
H-E-B is interested only if Heights residents vote to repeal the area's prohibition on alcohol sales at stores. You'd think that such a hip and increasingly upscale neighborhood would resoundingly support such an initiative — having a dry area seems like an old-timey throwback to outdated moral outrages — but in a recent post on Swamplot, some of the comments were..."interesting." In the spirit of fun, let's examine a few of the arguments being made about why the Heights should remain an island of sobriety surrounded by boozier stores outside the dry area.
4. It's a "Slippery Slope" and City Services Are Endangered?
Some people living in the Heights are apparently quite content with its dry status, but it's unclear if those folks are all 120 years old, or if they simply were born in that town in Footloose and oppose all forms of fun. That slippery slope might lead to what? The area's teens listening to the rock and roll music or dancing? Considering that I used to know people who'd buy narcotics in the Heights, and that a long-standing eatery there used to sell weed if you knew the code word for a "special order," I think maybe worries about grocery store sales of beer and wine leading the neighborhood into decline might be a little late. How essential city services would be disrupted because of the costs of getting the alcohol sales prohibition reversed is unclear to me, but it seems like a nice H-E-B opening in the area would be good for the area's economy...
3. Alcohol Sales Will Increase Traffic!
One commenter seemed to feel that the Heights' remaining dry would somehow slow large commercial developments from coming into the neighborhood, reducing traffic. I would ask this person to look around and ask himself if a store's selling beer is really going to increase traffic more than all the other commercial and residential development over the past few years has? Considering that H-E-B might be looking at the site of a recently closed Fiesta as its possible location, and that it's located on a major street known for traffic anyway...How much worse could it get? I watched as older homes were demolished and then replaced by 2-4 "luxury" townhomes all over the area for years, and I'd think that kind of development would increase traffic in a neighborhood more than a new grocery store with an aisle or two of beer and wine for residents to choose from. It seems to me that most of the people who would benefit from and shop at a new H-E-B would be residents of the Heights. Who's going to drive in from outside the neighborhood to shop, filling the streets with traffic and opening a floodgate of new commercial development?
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Sure, Houston has a problem with flooding, but what could a new H-E-B possibly do to make it worse that countless other developers haven't already irreversibly done? With the amount of concrete poured over the past decade or two in the Heights, to accommodate a seemingly unquenchable thirst for new development, the likely scenario for a new H-E-B would be that the chain secures a location that's already been covered in concrete anyway. Sure, flooding is a real concern, and ways to prevent it need to be explored, but voting to keep an area dry to prevent commercial properties from coming into a really popular neighborhood seems pretty shortsighted.
1. We Won't Be Steamrolled. People Will Sell Booze From Their Homes!
Taking NIMBYism to a higher level is the worry that reversing the Heights' long-standing dry status will allow enterprising folks living in the area to convert their expensive bungalows into beer and wine shops. I'm sure that would be on my agenda if I still owned the 700-square-foot two-bedroom home I lived in for years. This plan sounds like a great way to offset the rising costs of living in a gentrifying area! Of course, since I'm sure almost no one would actually go through with such a scheme, and most people who want to see grocery stores allowed to sell alcohol simply want to enjoy the same convenience that folks living in every other neighborhood in Houston have, this probably won't benefit any "booze house" entrepreneurs.
It's important to note that many of the other commenters seemed to think that the panic over a non-dry Heights was ridiculous, and that's because it is. Whether or not a new H-E-B is built, the prohibition on alcohol sales is a silly throwback to an earlier time, and blocking nice new grocery stores from being built in the area seems counterproductive and dumb.