Western Carolina University and the Cullowhee area could prove the decisive battleground in the coming debate about whether alcohol sales should be legal countywide in Jackson, and not just confined to the towns of Sylva and Dillsboro.
Ikran Mohamed, hurrying to class one day last week, said that when it comes to whether she believes the sale of alcoholic beverages would hurt or help Cullowhee and student life in general at Western Carolina University, she might be speaking while under the influence of the history paper she was carrying to class.
Her paper was on the history of drug addiction and trafficking in the U.S., including alcohol — and Mohamed’s findings weren’t positive. Only a light drinker herself, the Charlotte native said she believes (at least this morning, the paper in hand and fresh on her mind) that it might well be best if the sale of alcoholic beverages remains confined to neighboring Sylva.
“If it’s closer to campus, it’s easier to get,” the rising junior said, adding that she has particular concerns about underage drinking escalating on campus if beer and wine could be purchased at package stores, bars and restaurants in Cullowhee.
Next year, Jackson County voters will get to decide on the issue of countywide alcohol sales. Only two counties in the mountains, Buncombe and Clay, currently allow the sale of beer, wine or liquor outside town limits. Henderson County voters, like Jackson residents, get to vote on the issue next year.
A majority of Jackson County commissioners confirmed last week that they plan to put the question to voters on the ballot next year, either during the May primary or the November election.
The area of the county most likely to experience profound changes if the referendum passes is Cullowhee. Before his retirement earlier this summer, then Chancellor John Bardo pushed for the neighboring Village of Forest Hills to annex part of campus, vote in the sale of alcoholic beverages, and help him create an actual college town where students could find more to do at night than get a tattoo.
Because these days, unless they head up the road to Sylva, a tattoo parlor is about the only thing open near campus past 9 p.m.
“Exactly — that’s it,” said Philip Price, a nursing student from Raleigh and a rising junior. “But I don’t really care. I’m not too much of a drinker.”
Neither is Perry Fotopoulos, an environmental health major with a concentration in pre-med, who hails from nearby Franklin. In fact, Fotopoulos doesn’t drink at all. But he believes that it’s unrealistic to think most students won’t drink, because most do — “and it would be a little safer” if they didn’t have to drive to imbibe at a bar, Fotopoulos said.
That’s important to Eileen Calvert, too, who for the last 15 years or so has been busy giving students and faculty at WCU haircuts at her Cullowhee salon, Hairport.
“It’s ridiculous they don’t have beer here,” Calvert said, who lived for a time in Athens, Ga., where there is an active and vibrant campus nightlife for students at the University of Georgia to experience. “And, it’s inconvenient you can’t buy it here. There would be a lot less leaving this community to party if there were beer, and it would keep money here in our own town.”