News that Bostocks Billards & Bar will close permanently this October 31 brings to mind a failed effort to close Bostocks, as well as the general controversy over whether to allow Stephenville bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine to their customers. At issue was the degree to which the government could regulate or prevent the right of adults to sell, buy, and consume beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks.
Early in my term on the Stephenville City Council, a local pastor asked us to do what we could to close down Bostocks by contacting state liquor control authorities and push them to revoke Bostocks’s license to sell alcohol. The pastor said he and his congregation “loved” the owner and employees of Bostocks and pledged to help secure new jobs for everyone thrown out of work should Bostocks be shut down. But he added that the allegedly evil influence of alcohol on the Stephenville community required that Bostocks cease business.
I thought the pastor’s request was outrageous. Bostocks was a legal business legally run, and therefore had a perfect right to continue to operate. The city government had no right to shut down Bostocks as long as it operated within the law. And the police chief—like me, a teetotaler—confirmed the legality and sense of responsibility with which Bostocks was run. He noted, for example, that Bostocks’s owner and managers cooperated with the police to make sure that those who had had too much to drink were prevented from driving or otherwise causing mischief.
Fortunately, my fellow city council members agreed that there was no cause to shut down Bostocks and we rejected the pastor’s demands. Bostocks remained open, and no further attempt was made to shut it down.
But the controversy over whether to rezone properties to allow their owners to run bars or restaurants offering beer or wine continued. If the city approved a zoning application and thus rezoned the property in question, the applicant/owner could then apply to the state for the appropriate liquor license.
Some of my fellow council members said the power to rezone was discretionary and an application could be blocked if city council members had personal reasons for doing so. Those who did vote to block applications frequently said either that we already had enough bars and restaurants selling alcohol and therefore we didn’t need anymore, or they simply disapproved of drinking.
I found those arguments unpersuasive. If there truly are too many businesses of a similar nature competing for customers, some will surely fail for lack of customers. But every business is entitled to at least try to succeed, with the stipulation that the right to try is not the right to be guaranteed success. Government should recognize the right of each business to compete for customers, with the understanding that the market, and not the government, will determine who succeeds and who fails.
Moreover, government officials should not allow their private preferences or prejudices to affect their obligations to uphold the law. If the law permits a given business to operate, its right to do so should not be taken away by officials who disapprove of it. The fact that I dislike alcohol does not give me the right to prevent others from legally consuming and enjoying it. The fact that others disagreed with me and sometimes outvoted me on the council never changed my views on the subject.
Stephenville has since become more tolerant of buying, selling, and enjoying alcohol. In 2008 the voters of Erath County voted to permit the sale of beer and wine, and more recently they added whiskey and other “hard liquors” to the list of alcoholic beverages that can be bought, sold, and consumed here.
And that’s the way it should be, as long as nobody is forced to consume alcohol against his will, and everybody realizes that drunk or sober, a person is always responsible or his actions. Adults should generally be allowed to pursue whatever lifestyles they choose as long as they neither hurt anybody nor force their own lifestyles on others, and always accept responsibility for the consequences of their choices. Indeed the best way for anyone to guarantee the right to pursue his own lifestyle is to support the rights of all to pursue whatever lifestyles they choose, subject to the aforementioned conditions.
And as for Bostocks–having supplied a much-valued service for decades, its owner, management, and staff should be allowed to proceed to future ventures of their choice with best wishes for their success.
Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present). He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014. He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.