No cheers yet for ‘ brunch bill ’ in Bryson City
Sunday diners in Bryson City restaurants will still have to wait until noon or to order a Mimosa or Bloody Mary with their meal. On Monday, Aug. 7, Bryson City Town Board of Aldermen tabled local adoption of Senate Bill 151, called the "brunch bill" that would allow restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays instead of waiting until noon.
Discussion was prompted by a letter submitted by Ron LaRoque, co-owner of Everett Hotel and The Bistro at Everett (formerly called Cork and Bean Restaurant). He asked the town to adopt the bill that was signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on June 30.
Several cities in the state were quick to adopt shortly after it became law with the first towns including Carrboro, Raleigh, Surf City and Hendersonville.
“Personally, I like simpler better. The easier we make it for people to follow the law, the easier it is, so following the state statute always appeals to me,” said Town Mayor Tom Sutton.
He added he spoke to a few other business owners that don’t necessarily serve brunch that are in support of the law. In part, he said, some businesses might not open until noon on Sunday to prevent the potential for a mistake by new servers selling alcohol before it’s allowed and make it less confusing for customers.
Mayor pro-tem Jim Gribble asked if the town couldn’t just adopt a change to follow suit with the county.
Town Attorney Fred Moody confirmed that the board would still have to change its local ordinance to do so. The county has not made any decision on the matter yet either.
The state legislature wrote the law so that local governments can decide on whether or not to extend the hours for serving alcohol on Sunday mornings.
Board alderwoman Janine Crisp took a clear stand against extending the sale of alcohol on Sundays, reading from a statement that is about a page in length.
“I think that each of you would agree that most things alcohol related can be a very controversial issue in our area especially when the issue is alcohol sales on Sunday,” she began. “I’m one of five members on this board, but I speak for a large contingency of our community who strongly oppose any change in the current restrictions of alcohol sales on Sunday… the fact is, we live in the heart of the Bible Belt, and many people in Bryson City and Swain County take it as an offense to their and to the tenants they hold firmly to in their faith when we allow changes like this to be made that runs contrary to their will.”
(See this story at www.thesmokymountaintimes.com to read Crisp’s statement in full.)
Alcohol sales were prohibited in Bryson City for many years. Previous town board minutes reveal the board didn’t adopt alcohol sales for off-premise consumption in the town until 1990. That decision allowed sales from 1 p.m.-6 p.m., and still holds true for grocery stores and gas stations selling beer or wine.
Gribble said he wasn’t so interested in extending alcohol sales on Sunday mornings, but does think the board should extend sales into the evening. He raised this at the board’s July work session meeting, saying that he had seen people leave carts full of food when they learned they couldn’t also purchase beer or wine at Ingle’s after 6 p.m.
“I was more concerned about the 6 p.m. change,” Gribble said. “I’ve told you what I’ve seen here. People get upset, and they take it out on the people at the register, and it’s not fair to them. This goes back a long way. If people want to get alcohol, they’ll get alcohol.”
Aldermen Rick Bryson seemed to be in agreement with Crisp in keeping the current ordinance in place.
“I think my feeling about the brunch bill is it probably doesn’t meet our overall community standard,” he said.
Alderwoman Heidi Ramsey-Woodard said, “I’m okay with tabling it to the next meeting so we can discuss with other residents.”
One local business owner stressed that moving the hours for alcohol sales on Sundays up would clear up confusion for visitors in particular.
“I definitely support it. I feel like it’s not a game changer as far as alcohol laws, but it’s going to cause a lot less confusion,” said Crystal Beach, co-owner of Anthony’s Restaurant on Tuesday. “Tourists who visit come in at 11 a.m. on Sunday expecting they can order a Bloody Mary or another drink with their meal. Sometimes, they get up and leave when they can’t. For others, it’s a bad start to their dining experience. That’s why I support it. We want people to have a good experience and come back to Bryson City.”
LaRoque expressed his frustration over the situation that seems to pit the board against local business owners.
“Adopting SB 151 is good for Bryson City business,” said LaRoque by email Tuesday. “Local businesses rely heavily on the tourist industry. The tourist industry and local business make up a large amount of the tax collected by the town and county. The notion of starting liquor sales two hours earlier would infringe on a person’s holy day slaps in the face of other religions who observe holy days on days and times where alcohol is sold nonstop. I applaud those whose religious convictions prevent them from partaking in alcoholic beverages, but that is a choice one makes in line with one’s religious beliefs.
“This is just the latest issue that divides the town board with the local businesses. This issue should not be divisive, rather one that unites. It’s high time that the board of alderman work to get input from the local businesses and stop feeling like it’s us against them. I have and continue to offer my help in any matter that my help can be beneficial.”
He added he’s heard from just a couple of board members.
“To date, only the mayor and one member of the town board of alderman have reached out to me for help with concerns on issues. We are all interested Bryson City’s success and financial stability,” he said. “This town is a wonderful place that has so much to offer. I personally will not stop in making sure that its beauty and success continues.”
The board’s next two meetings have been rescheduled. The next work session will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at 5:30 p.m., and the regular meeting will be Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. Both meetings are held town hall and are open to the public.
The full statement from Janine Crisp:
I think that each of you would agree that most things alcohol related can be a very controversial issue in our area especially when the issue is alcohol sales on Sunday. I am one of five members on this board but, today, I speak for a large contingent of our community who strongly oppose any change in the current restrictions of alcohol sales on Sunday. And it’s those people in this community that I ask you to think about before you make your decision and perhaps cast your vote if and when it comes to that. The fact is that we live in the heart of the Bible Belt and many people in Bryson City and Swain County take it as an offense to their faith and to the tenants they hold firmly to in their faith when we allow changes like this to be made that runs contrary to their will. They also feel marginalized when their governing bodies do not regard their will and that is a precarious place for us to find ourselves given the fact that we are elected officials. To alleviate any concerns there may be I am not and do not anticipate asking this board to consider changing by way of ordinance any existing rules on alcohol sales and availability in the TBC. We have alcohol available for sale and purchase 6 days a week and for a generous amount of time on the seventh. I feel, and many others feel, that this is more than enough.
Let me be clear, I’m not asking you to make this about Sunday and it’s not even about whether you consider Sunday a sacred day. What I am asking you to do is to give respect and due consideration to the will of the people in this community that do hold Sunday as a sacred day. We would do well to remember that it’s for our community and because of our community that we are here. Not to be a voice for ourselves but, as their elected official, to yield to their will. Ultimately, our decisions should align themselves with those of the consensus of the people from the area we represent. So I respectfully ask you to join with me and many of our community members to hold the line on this measure and not adopt any resolution that would recognize the brunch bill or any other measure that would seek to make changes to the current restrictions of alcohol sales on Sunday.