By Chris Edwards
CORRIGAN – Dale and Melanie Helton have owned and operated their namesake store, D&M Liquor, for almost a year and a half; however, Polk County officials have insisted that the Heltons cease selling liquor.
Melanie Helton said she was served papers from the office of Polk County District Attorney Lee Hon on Saturday. The papers stated that D&M Liquor was in violation of county law, pertaining to the sale of spirits within the store's location. The Heltons were instructed to stop the sale of liquor at their establishment by Monday, October 9, or face possible litigation by the county. Melanie Helton said that D&M Liquor is currently within its legal rights, with both state and county entities, to sell liquor. "We have a current permit with Polk County and with TABC," she said. The issue stems from the location of the store, which is on Stryker Road (FM 352). Currently there are only two areas within Polk County designated for package stores to operate and sale distilled spirits: Onalaska and Seven Oaks. This designation is something Melanie Helton was unaware of when she was getting the proper certifications to open the store, and also went ignored by county officials, who signed off on the permit. "The county signed off for spirits to be sold [at D&M Liquor]," Melanie Helton said.
Hon acknowledged the oversight. "An improper certification was made by the county clerk's office," he said. The permit, which was issued on March 2, 2016, allows for both the sale of beer and wine as well as the sale of spirits. Helton said she had to go through three separate county offices to obtain her permits, and none of them told her that it was illegal to sale liquor at her location. "If the paperwork was wrong, you'd think they would've caught that," she said. Hon said that the Sheriff's Department brought the topic to his office's attention "a week or so ago". "They were flying below the radar," he said. "We gave them a deadline, but this shouldn't affect their beer and wine sales at all."
The county-issued liquor permit is good for two years, and Helton said her store plans to continue to sale liquor until the permit runs out. "They allowed us to buy this permit, and we spent over $100,000 to get our business up and running," Melanie Helton said.
Helton said she has contacted representatives with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, who told her that what has happened to her business is not unprecedented, but that a county cannot protest the sale of liquor at a business in such a situation until two months prior to the county-issued permit running out.
D&M Liquor is the first liquor store to operate in the Corrigan area since 1937. On May 13, 2006, a special election ballot item permitted the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption throughout the county, and according to the TABC website the measure passed with a vote of 2,875 for to 2,035 against. Prior to that vote, Polk County was only partially "wet" for the sale of beer and wine. Melanie Helton pointed out the low turnout for that vote, that only around 5,000 people out of a countywide population of over 37,000 voted. She encouraged area residents to voice their wants at the polls. "If they want a liquor store in the area, they need to push for it on the ballot."
Hon also said that the countywide sale of liquor was an issue that hadn't made it to the ballot yet. If it is wanted, he said "they need to get it on the ballot."
Although frustrated by the costly oversight, Melanie Helton is determined to continue to operate her business for the permit's duration. "I don't see why we should have to pay for the county's mistake," she said.