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First ABC store now open on Qualla Boundary

Cherokee ABC Store SMN Holly Kay
Holly Kay/Smoky Mountain News
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Tribal officials attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday at Cherokee's first ABC store.

This week, an ABC store selling liquor opened for the first time on the Qualla Boundary.

“This is a great opportunity for the tribe and economic development for future generations,” said Principal Chief Richard Sneed in a statement on Facebook.

The store and expansion of the Eastern Band of Cherokee ABC Commission passed in a 2021 referendum.

“The EBCI is currently the only tribe in the United States who owns and operates an ABC Store. By securing the opportunity to regulate and sell on the Qualla Boundary, this is just one more example of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians exercising tribal sovereignty,” Sneed continued.

Three referendum questions pertaining to alcohol passed during the September 2021 Tribal Council election. The first expanded beer sales at retail establishments. The second expanded the Eastern Band Tribal ABC Commission to operate an ABC store. The third expanded wine and malt beverage sales at restaurants, hotels and other establishments.

The ABC store referendum passed with 59.3% of voters saying yes to the move.

The laws for alcohol sales on the boundary have a complicated history. For years, moves to expand alcohol sales on the boundary have failed. One of the first places where you could buy alcohol was Harrah's Cherokee Casino but when the casino first opened in 1997 - it was dry. It wasn’t until 2009 that alcohol was allowed to be sold at the casino and casino properties. Another place alcohol has been available on the Qualla Boundary was near the Blue Ridge Parkway. In 2015, the Blue Ridge Law passed to allow alcohol sales for establishments, like restaurants, within one and a half miles of a Blue Ridge Parkway on-ramp.

The new ABC store marks another step away from prohibition. The store is at the intersection of U.S. 19 and U.S. 441, according to the Smoky Mountain News. Its hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It will be closed on Sundays.

The last dry county in North Carolina, Graham County, approved alcohol sales in 2021.

Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.