Liquor outlets in four nearby communities have seen a boost in sales since beer stores in Whiteclay were ordered to close.
Business is particularly booming in Rushville, Whiteclay’s closest neighbor in northwest Nebraska.
Sales there have more than tripled, from 3,729 gallons of beer in April to 12,962 gallons in June, according to data compiled by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission. Chadron, Gordon and Hay Springs have also seen moderate increases.
Overall, the amount of beer distributed to retailers in northern Sheridan and northeastern Dawes counties dropped from 56,927 gallons in April to 50,673 gallons in June.
The Liquor Commission requested the data from distributors after ordering an end to Whiteclay beer sales in April. For more than a century before then, Whiteclay served as a watering hole for people from South Dakota’s nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where alcohol is banned.
The shift in sales isn’t a surprise.
Area beer sellers in Nebraska and South Dakota have reported brisk business in recent months, but the Liquor Commission numbers are the first official data available.
Still, it’s too early to establish a pattern, said Hobert Rupe, the Liquor Commission’s executive director. And he stressed that lack of adequate law enforcement, not the amount of beer they sold, was the reason for closing Whiteclay’s stores.
Supporters of closing the Whiteclay stores have argued that neighboring communities, with larger populations and the ability to pass local liquor ordinances, are better equipped to police alcohol sales.
“We haven’t heard the complaints” from those communities about the vagrancy, violence and drunken behavior that once plagued Whiteclay, Rupe said Thursday.
John Maisch, an anti-Whiteclay activist and former Oklahoma liquor regulator, said the new numbers show alcohol sales have dropped more than 10 percent while still preserving a large amount of business for area distributors.
“The sky is not falling for the wholesalers,” Maisch said. “It’s a win-win.”
Opponents of the Liquor Commission decision say it hurt the Whiteclay stores’ owners and won’t help problems with alcohol on the reservation, where bootlegging is common.
“Closing the stores is not — is not — solving the problem, clearly,” said Rushville Mayor Chris Heiser. “The good people in Pine Ridge are still going to get their alcohol.”
The Whiteclay store owners have challenged the closings, and a hearing before the Nebraska Supreme Court is set for Aug. 29.
In the meantime, the Liquor Commission is pressing forward with separate citations that the beer store owners engaged in illegal business practices, including selling to bootleggers, something the store owners’ attorney has denied. Rupe said one or more hearings on those allegations will be held in the coming months.