ATLANTA – Legislation is now law designed to open the door to a new grocery store in Douglas while inadvertently blocking a possible boutique grocery for downtown Athens.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s office announced that he signed House Bill 85 into law Monday.

Rep. Jay Roberts and Sen. Tyler Harper, both Ocilla Republicans, pushed the bill to change the law requiring a 100 yards between stores that sell alcohol and schools, as long as the local government agrees. They told colleagues the measure would bring 200 jobs to a small town in their district in need of employment.

The law change was needed because the chosen site was less than 100 yards from a school for troubled students. Harper said he wanted to use the same technique that Athens legislators had used the year before to relax the distance requirement around colleges when they wanted to allow Athens’ first downtown grocery in generations.

Now that Georgia permits the sale of alcohol seven days a week, most grocery chains consider it a key money maker and are unwilling to locate where they can’t sell it, experts say.

The hitch for Athens arose when the Senate added wording to HB 85 limiting alcohol sales near schools to stores of at least 10,000 square feet. That replaced a restriction in last year’s Athens-sponsored bill that required stores use at least 85 percent of their space for grocery items. Sen. Steve Henson, D-Tucker, said he authored the last-minute amendment because he believes bigger stores have more staff to prevent underage purchase of alcohol.

Deal’s office didn’t offer any comment from the governor about his reasoning for signing HB 85 into law. He has until May 12 to consider hundreds of bills passed during the 40-day session of the General Assembly that finished April 2.


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