ATLANTA In more than 100 cities and counties across Georgia, it will soon be legal on Sundays to buy a six-pack of beer at a convenience store or a bottle of bourbon at a liquor store.
Booze carried the day with voters on Tuesday, with Sunday retail sales winning in 110 of the 127 cities and counties that held referendums on the issue. In some cities, such as Atlanta, residents were overwhelmingly in favor of Sunday sales, with more than 80 percent of voters approving.
Nationally, only two states, Indiana and Connecticut, have statewide bans on Sunday retail sales of alcohol, said Jim Tudor, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores.
The Georgia legislature earlier this year approved a bill allowing city and county voters to decide the issue by referendum. Georgia law already allowed similar votes on whether to permit Sunday alcohol purchases by the drink at restaurants.
The convenience store association favored giving voters a choice on the issue. But some liquor store owners opposed Sunday sales, arguing the cost of remaining open an extra day would offset any profits from extra sales, Tudor said.
He predicted Sunday sales will be particularly helpful to retailers in Georgia tourist areas where out-of-state visitors often arrive on Sunday and are surprised to discover stores can't sell alcohol.
"It's an issue of customer service and local control," Tudor told Reuters on Wednesday.
The Georgia Christian Coalition opposed ending the ban on Sunday sales, arguing it would increase drunken driving and family disruption, said coalition president Jerry Luquire.
"Sunday is a unique day," he said. "We didn't want Sunday to become just like Saturday."
The coalition's campaign against Sunday sales was "gloriously defeated," Luquire conceded.
Many voters viewed the issue as one of individual rights versus a government mandate, he said. They objected to being told by the government when they could or could not buy alcohol.
"It's hard to fight that," said Luquire.
The fight will likely continue next year, when voters in nearly 500 other jurisdictions will have the chance to weigh in on the issue, said Matt Carrothers, spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State's office.
Many governments chose to delay a vote until 2012 because there were no other local issues on the ballot Tuesday, and they did not want to spend the money to hold an election on that one issue, Carrothers said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)