Not quite never on Sundays

Welcome to Mayberry 30268, where, starting next year, on Sundays you can get a glass of rum and Coke but not a bottle of rum.

While dozens of other metro towns will be ringing up Sunday alcohol sales in liquor and grocery stores next year, Palmetto remains metro Atlanta’s lone holdout with its 314-297 defeat of the Sunday package sales referendum on Nov. 8.

But residents here aren’t so diehard when it comes to drinking on Sunday. You’ll still be able to quench your adult thirst on Sundays at Tyme Out Neighborhood Grill after it gets its license in the next few days. Palmetto voters reversed themselves on the idea of liquor-by-the-drink, which failed to pass two years ago. This time, the measure squeaked by 309-298. It’s anybody’s guess why Palmetto voted for one and not the other, city administrator Terry Todd said. But given residents’ efforts to cling to their small-town ways, Todd said he’s not surprised.

“We always knew it was going to be very close. The citizens voted what they thought was best, and that’s what came out,” Todd said. “It’s a unique city and what you’re seeing is some of the results. It is a small town that likes being small. It’s very, very friendly. It is progressive when it comes to economic development, but [residents] also recognize we are in fact a bedroom community and would like to keep it that way.”

No matter.

Tyme Out general manager Romello Combs is elated. Palmetto Liquors manager Doug Cho is hurt but hopeful, and the Rev. Jimmy Orr is a bit amused if not stumped.

“We didn’t touch on it at all [in sermons], so we can’t take credit or blame for it,” Orr, a teetotaler, joked. “When I heard it was defeated, I was surprised. I really couldn’t tell you the rationale behind why it was defeated.”

If all goes well, Tyme Out will get its liquor license from the state on Monday, making it the only restaurant in town able to serve liquor. And now with the passage of the Sunday liquor by-the-drink measure, Tyme Out will be pouring drinks seven days a week sometime after New Year’s. But first, it must get City Council approval to pour on Sundays.

“It’ll be perfect timing,” Tyme Out manager Romello Combs said of the Sunday drink sales. “People love to drink in Palmetto. When we opened with food, they loved it. They keep coming. Now, they’re saying ‘OK, now where’s the liquor?’ It’s going to make it a lot better for us.”

But Cho believes once the newness of being able to buy booze on Sundays wears off, people will revert back to the old days.

“Initially, it’s going to hurt a little bit,” he said. “I’m hoping it evens out once the novelty is over. I’m thinking they’ll buy it at first for the novelty and then go back to their habit of not buying on Sunday.”

About 25 miles south of downtown Atlanta, west of I-85, Palmetto has 4,880 residents, no high school or middle school, and a half-dozen churches, five fast-food joints, two restaurants and an assortment of businesses that sit just off U.S. 29.

It also has six stores that sell alcoholic beverages, including two package stores. Despite having a federal highway that slices through the heart of town, a lot of growth bypassed Palmetto and landed 10 miles up the road in Union City or leapfrogged to Newnan. Retirees rule here. They’re the ones who get out and vote, which some surmise may be the reason Sunday alcohol sales went down in defeat here. It’s a town rooted in routine. Got a beef with city officials? On the first Fridays of the month, residents can meet at City Hall to talk about what’s on their mind.

Mostly though, folks wind up at Nana’s Southern Cook’in, a small log cabin-like gathering spot that draws a steady following who come in for the meat-and-three specials. Patrons like Joyce McDowell have been coming for years. So have most of the congregation at her church, Victory Baptist. They eat at the restaurant every Sunday after church. If regulars haven’t shown up in a few days, owner Cathy Logan gets worried and the next time she sees them, she makes sure to get their home number so she can check on them.

“This is the Cheers of Palmetto,” said waitress Tina Jenkins. Here, McDowell is always called “Miss Joyce.” And Miss Joyce likes her town just the way it is and wants to keep it that way.

“I voted for no alcohol. I know how it does. It makes people mean. It tears up families,” said the 80-year-old who has lived in Palmetto since the 1950s. “I’m a Christian and Sunday is the Lord’s day.”

Logan hovering nearby, chimed in: “They like keeping it like Mayberry.”

A few blocks over at The Fadez-n-Cutz barbershop on Toombs Street, owner Richard Walker is edging up John Knox’s hair. The pair shared a good laugh about Palmetto’s newly acquired distinction: the only metro Atlanta city to vote down Sunday alcohol sales.

“We’re a joke,” said Walker, who lives in Atlanta and voted for Sunday alcohol sales there. Knox, an aircraft mechanic who has lived in Palmetto for 13 years, said a lot of people in town are close-minded.

He said defeating Sunday alcohol sales means people now will just spend their money in Union City and other surrounding towns on Sundays.

“People here don’t really understand what they’re voting for. You’re not voting for alcoholism,” Walker said. “You’re voting for adding more revenue to the town. Now the city’s got to find another way to make money.”