The addition of an upscale beer and wine retailer might be seen by some as a sign of progress in downtown Augusta. Others view it differently.
"There are Bible studies that go on within our facilities," said Thurman Norville, a Methodist minister who is the director of United Methodist Children's Home on Eighth Street. "We also counsel families and individuals who are suffering because of alcohol."
The children's home, where children do not reside, stood out as the lone voice of opposition Monday to Louis Williamson's plans to open Aficionados, an upscale beer, wine and cigar store nearby at 307 Eighth St. Ten others signed a petition against the store, Norville said.
Williamson's application met Augusta's requirements that alcohol retailers be 100 yards away from a church, and the Richmond County Sheriff's Office knew of no significant problems in the area, according to Rob Sherman, the director of Augusta licensing and inspections.
"Some of our folks that come in for counseling are ... accosted at night when panhandlers ask for money," he said. "Do we really need one more shop that's going to serve retail beer and wine where someone can go in and purchase it and walk right out the door?"
According to Williamson, Aficionados is geared toward consumers with a median income of $75,000, not the homeless.
"We're not going to cater toward the type of people the gentlemen spoke of earlier," he said.
An Augusta Commission committee agreed to license Williamson, but the full commission will vote on the matter Tuesday after Sherman provides more information about crime in the area, Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles said.
A member of a nearby church was adamant the new store would cause no harm.
"I wholeheartedly support it and think it's a good addition to the vitality of downtown," David Moretz said.
Aficionados is unlikely to be the last new alcohol store moving downtown; last week, Augusta lowered the minimum required distance between such stores from 11/2 miles to 500 yards. Commissioner Corey Johnson said he was concerned the move might "saturate certain areas," but Bowles said applications could be handled individually or certain areas could be carved out of the ordinance.
"I believe we can control the package shops like we can the bars if there's an excess," Bowles said.
Bill Price, the owner of Bill's Place, a package shop on Fifth Street, was skeptical, saying the move was simply another way for the commission to generate revenue.
"They just want money," Price said.
The change opened the door for Aficionados, which will pay $1,210 for its license to sell alcohol.