Tax on bar sales increases revenue for Oxford

Oxford’s restaurant and bar scene boasts 47 full-service restaurants, according to census data. Of those establishments, more than 30 are licensed to serve liquor and beer in accordance with the Mississippi Department of Revenue alcohol and beverage rules and regulations and Oxford’s Code of Ordinances.

“It’s an ABC Law to sell food at our bars,” said Jim Bulian, owner of Old Venice and The Burgundy Room.

Of the 30 bars and restaurants in the Oxford area, over 50 percent of nightlife hotspots are on the Square, according to Visit Oxford.

Under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control’s regulations, all bars are required to serve food.

Bars must have at least five different food menu options, all of which have to be prepared and not simply heated or “ready-to-eat.”

Photo by: Ariel Cobbert

Photo by: Ariel Cobbert

All bars and restaurants that carry and sell beer, wine or liquor are required to have appropriate licensing for the selling of alcohol.

ABC has approximately 22 different types of liquor licenses.

The Growler, located off of the Square, originally only sold beer, said Krisi Allen, the bar’s general manager.

Beer licenses are separate from wine and liquor licenses, but The Growler opted to get both in case they ever decided to expand their drink selection.

“That was probably the most difficult part, having to do all the extra hoops, that we didn’t necessarily need for our business,” Allen said. “I’m glad that we had to go through the hoops in the beginning, because it makes it easy now to expand our menu.”

The city of Oxford adds an extra 2 percent tax increase on any food and beverage sale from bars and restaurants. The money collected from this tax increase goes toward tourism and marketing, the Oxford Conference Center, flowering and décor for the Oxford Square and more, Visit Oxford assistant director Kinney Farris said.

The money generated from this 2 percent tax has increased the tourism budget by 11 percent in the past two fiscal years. Throughout 2014-2015, the city made $2,589,358 from the food and liquor tax, an increase of $531,551 from the previous year’s tax collection.

When it comes to alcohol, Mississippi is dry by default, meaning local jurisdictions have to authorize the legal sale of alcohol in their counties in accordance with state liquor control laws. Localities must “opt in” to allow alcohol sales.

According to the National Alcoholic Beverage Control Association, Lafayette is technically a dry county, but Oxford elected out of the state’s dry law that has been in place since 1967. Between 1966 and 1970, the majority of Mississippi’s counties “opted in” to allow alcohol sales, but 36 of Mississippi’s 82 counties remain dry.

An Oxford ordinance forbids retailers to sell alcohol after midnight and before 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and on Sundays, except between the hours or 11 a.m. and 9 p.m. Statewide laws ban the sale of alcoholic beverages past midnight, yet the city of Oxford extended last call to 1 a.m. on Thursdays and Fridays.

“I know [Oxford] just did the Sunday alcohol sales a few years ago,” Farris said. “Of course tourism would support another day of that because that would mean people would be more likely to stay in town another day after a football or baseball weekend.”