A banner on the window at Cal-City Grocery announced the longtime Caledonia landmark’s impending reopening, but those plans were dashed during Tuesday night’s Board of Aldermen meeting, when the store’s new owner announced he would not be coming to town after all.
Businessman Jeff Doty, of Aberdeen, announced in February his intent to reopen the convenience store under its original name, provided he could secure a variance to sell cold beer within the city limits, but the aldermen balked on the issue, saying although Cal-City sold cold beer for decades under a grandfather clause, the clause was rendered null when the store closed for two months, following original owner Bill Pearrow’s death.
During last month’s Aldermen meeting, Doty said he still intended to open the store, but Tuesday night, he announced he was going to give up the battle, after receiving what he called “a very threatening letter” from Caledonia Town Attorney Jeff Smith.
The letter, dated March 9, was addressed to Doty and delivered to Caledonia Mayor George Gerhart and each of the aldermen, as well as to attorney Steve Wallace, who is probating the Pearrow estate and represents the family.
Doty said he was upset not only by the contents of the letter, but also because it has been widely disseminated.
When confronted by Doty about how the private letter became public knowledge, Gerhart said any letters sent to the town, which aren’t stamped confidential, are public record.
In the two-page letter, Smith outlined Caledonia’s 1945 ordinance, which prohibited sales of beer within 1,500 feet of a church or school, and the 1982 grandfather clause, which allowed Cal-City to continue selling cold beer as it always had.
Smith said when the store closed in fall 2011 and did not reopen right away, any reopening would be considered the establishment of a new business subject to the current town ordinance.
“I do not anticipate the Mayor of Board of Aldermen filing any complaint with any Court or with the Mississippi Department of Revenue which governs licensing,” Smith wrote. “However, having lived in Caledonia a good part of my life, and you can rest assured, someone will make a complaint at some point to the Alcohol Beverage Control Division of the Department of Revenue or the appropriate law enforcement forum. You open your business at your own peril, if you intend to sell beer, if it is part and partial [sic] of your ability to make a profit. I would think your selling of beer would be short-lived at best, however that is for you to decide and not me.”
The letter concludes with a warning: “Do as you see fit, however do not let it be said, you were not warned of possible consequences, if you act as you stated on March 6, 2012.”
Smith Tuesday said he wrote the letter on his own volition, because he felt the aldermen were getting “castigated” over the issue.
“If you’re mad at anybody, be mad at me,” Smith said. “It was me trying to take care of the board members. If you’re mad at anybody, I take full blame.”
Doty accused Aldermen Steve Honnoll, Bill Darnell and Brenda Willis of letting their personal feelings about alcohol dictate their votes, in February when they struck down the measure to allow the store to be grandfathered in again.
“You don’t have to worry about me coming to Caledonia,” Doty said. “I’m not coming to a place that doesn’t want to prosper.”
Willis said she didn’t believe any of the board members had a problem with the store reopening, only with the sale of beer. Gerhart said during the years the store was open, he wasn’t aware of any problems.
But even as the fate of Cal-City remains somewhat cloudy, another businessman received the go-ahead for plans to bring a Subway sandwich shop to Caledonia.
Houston hotel and restaurant owner Chan Patel agreed to purchase Lot 2 of the old gin site property on Wolfe Road for $4,500. He said the restaurant has already been approved, and construction can begin once the paperwork is finalized. The motion passed unanimously to allow Patel to purchase the land.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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