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Come November, Heights Residents Will Have Chance to Nix Alcohol Ban

Come November 9, you might just be able to walk into a corner store and buy beer in the Heights. Houston city council members on Tuesday passed an ordinance calling for a special election to decide whether to amend the historic neighborhood's century-old dry laws.

"We're pleased it will be on the ballot," said Steve Reilley, chairman of the Houston Heights Beverage Coalition, which has spearheaded the effort.

Since 1912, the Heights has banned alcohol sales. An exception to the rule allows restaurants to sell drinks so long as diners join a "club" created by the establishment (this is often as simple as signing a piece of paper). The proposed change would permit retailers such as grocery or convenience stores to sell beer and wine — but not liquor — for consumption elsewhere.

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Reilley, who lives in the Heights, said the beverage coalition collected more than 1,700 signatures from residents to force the proposal onto November's ballot. The group wants to lure another grocery store into the dry zone, which is roughly bordered by I-10, I-610, Oxford and North Shepherd. A Fiesta Mart on North Shepherd closed in March. A Kroger operates in the dry zone, on 21st Street.

Texas chain H-E-B gave the beverage coalition money to hire a consultant to collect signatures, Reilley said, in the hope of opening a store in the dry zone. He said other retailers may be interested in moving into the Heights, which is adding new residents with several new apartment complexes. But stores will balk at doing so until they can also sell alcohol.

"If we're going to have a modern grocery store, more opportunity and more choices, then we need to tweak this law," Reilley said. "I don't think the people in 1912 voting for the original ban were voting not to have good grocery stores."

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