Welcome to Charleston. Now go to bed.
“In the midnight hour / Mullen cried ‘No more whoa-oh’
With a Rebel Yell / Riley cried ‘No more whoa-oh’”
- Special lyrics adapted from Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell
If you haven’t heard yet, this past week with a new ordinance passing its first reading, Charleston City Council moved to curtail alcohol sales downtown, and possibly change the image of Charleston. In essence, if you own a business that sells alcohol, you may not do so after midnight, unless you are a hotel with 20 or more rooms. Bars, close at midnight. Grocery with beer sales, close at midnight. Gas stations with beer sales, close at midnight.
Who would come up with such a thing? Mayor Riley and Police Chief Gregory Mullen.
Why? They say the peninsula is getting harder to manage. Late night revelers are wandering the streets drunk at 3 am, and annoying the residents. Also, there are rumored to be three technology start-up companies who wish to relocate their businesses near upper King, and they have demanded that late night rowdiness be curtailed, or they will not come.
NOTE: My B.S. meter starts beeping and flashing all kinds of crazy lights at this one. A tech firm does not want late night bars? Really? A firm that attracts 20-something employees who work late hours, under incredible stress, making lots of money, wants to attract those employees by promising them a life of sobriety in Mayberry 2014? Who are these firms, and if they don’t open doors here even after this passes, will we ever know who they were?
Another reason this is posted is that powerful and wealthy residents want their neighborhoods to be nicer, and the growth on King infringes upon that.
One more reason, cited by City Paper, is that people from Ohio are to blame. It suggested people from Ohio “are assholes,” and “fuck them.” As a person from Ohio, I politely disagree with that jackass suggestion.
Who would think this is a good idea? That would be 12 of your 13 city council members who voted in favor of the new ordinance. The only nay vote was from Councilman Dean Rigel, who wasn’t as much opposed to it, as he wanted to include the food and beverage businesses in the discussion. Apparently, though, that would be a one-way discussion by the sounds of things.
Who else might be for it? According the Post and Courier, the owner of AC’s Bar and Grill on King is in favor. The implication is that the existing bars would love it because it would limit new competition.
You see, one of the PR arguments being tossed around is that this will only apply to new businesses. Existing ones would be grandfathered in. In fact, Mayor Riley indicated he needed to get this passed quickly, because if he took too much time, there would be a race for more new bar applications from others who would want to be grandfathered in under the current closing time. (BS Meter again. Two days later he told the Tourism Board that the city would not allow ANY more permits for businesses who wanted to stay open past midnight.)
The knee jerk reaction in the community has been overwhelmingly against it, and here are some of the arguments I’ve heard over the past three days:
1. The regulation does NOT state that this is for new businesses only. That’s a PR line which is not being attributed to Mayor Riley or the Police Chief. So if the regulation ends up being applied to existing businesses in the new zone, Riley and Mullen won’t be called liars.
2. What happens when a bar renews its license or sells its business? The fear is that this will establish the business as “new” and therefore fall under the new regulations. Since liquor licenses have to be renewed every 2 years, according to a bar manager I spoke with last night, we could see every bar on King closing at midnight by 2016.
3. This restricts free enterprise and competition. Sure does. Who would want to open a bar that closes at midnight when the one next door closes at 2 am? Perhaps this suggests we need more t-shirt shops, antique galleries, and souvenir stores.
4. How can the city encourage cruise ship visitors, and growth at the college, then turn around to restrict the hours one can go get a drink? This does seem like an attempt to close Pandora’s Box. You want all the people you can get, but not to overstay their welcome.
5. Fewer people will start businesses here, and enrollment at College of Charleston will drop off. Interesting thought, certain segments tell us that three unnamed businesses will bring lots of jobs here if this passes. And why would underage underclassmen care about bar hours? Surely they don’t drink. Let's look at all the dry counties in the US and see how much business and college students they attract. Um....not so much. In fact, did you know that South Carolina is one of 17 States which PROHIBITS any country from becoming a dry county?
6. “2 am closing is universal,” I was told by one bartender at 3 am last night. Yes, this would be the first city I know of that officially shuts down at midnight. This would affect our national reputation.
7. If their purpose is to stop growth then why this method? Again, my B.S. meter rises at why this is the best way to solve the problems they say they are facing. In order to stop the new growth, why did they have to rezone? Could they have simply put a moratorium on granting any new liquor licenses for a set number of years? Rezoning makes me believe this will be imposed on existing businesses when they renew their license, or lose it for an infraction (which can happen any time the police want to bust an underage kid, the bar gets a health code violation, or under last year’s ordinance, fails to properly police its sidewalk or parking areas). Just after this ordinance was approved in its first reading, the city announced that it would no longer issue permits to any new business that wish to operate downtown after midnight. Seems that the city could have done that without the rezoning, and had the same effect. So, there has to be another reason to rezone. Are we all on double secret probation Dean Wormer? (Animal House reference, FYI)
8. This will send people further away to go drinking late at night, and that could mean more DUIs and alcohol related deaths. That was an argument I heard last night which I had not considered.
9. Closing at midnight will kill our thriving music scene. This is another argument I hadn’t considered because I simply don’t consider our downtown music scene “thriving.” Other than the Music Farm, we’ve got lots of cover bands squeezing into small spaces with their own sound gear, and taking requests for Wild Horses and Wagon Wheel all night long. That doesn’t exactly make us Austin, Texas. But hey, if an original music place like Cumberland’s could ever mount a return, closing at midnight would prohibit that from happening on King or Market.
There are a lot of reasons to be against it. Are you against it or for it?
But I’ve got a surprise for you. There are a lot of reasons for some to welcome this new regulation. I’ll save that for my next blog, after you all blast me for suggesting there is anything good about this proposal. You see, I’m still working through the reasons why this might be something worth supporting, and who might want to support it. So comment as much as you want. Anonymously if you must. Let’s rant