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Currituck OKs earlier Sunday alcohol sales

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Commissioner Marion Gilbert

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

CURRITUCK – Restaurants and convenience stores in Currituck may now sell alcohol on Sundays as early as 10 a.m., following county commissioners approval of a new “brunch bill” ordinance Monday night.

Commissioner Mike Hall led a 5-2 vote in favor of the measure, which took effect immediately. Prior to the decision, businesses in Currituck had to wait until noon on Sundays to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks.

Joining Hall in voting for the ordinance were Commissioners Kitty Etheridge, Bob Hanig, Mike Payment and Bob White.

Commissioners Paul Beaumont and Marion Gilbert voted no. Gilbert’s no vote was a reversal from her support for the ordinance at commissioners’ last meeting on July 17.

At that prior meeting, Beaumont was the lone dissenter against the ordinance, which is authorized by legislation Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law late June. The so-called “brunch bill” empowers local governments to adopt ordinances allowing alcohol sales in their counties to begin at 10 a.m. on Sundays. 

Because ordinances have to pass by a unanimous vote on their first reading, Beaumont’s opposition at the July 17 meeting required a second vote on the ordinance. That second vote, held Monday, only had to pass with a simple majority, however.

Explaining why she had changed her mind about the ordinance, Gilbert said it was because of her own investigation of the issue of early alcohol sales on Sunday and because of constituent concerns she had heard.

"In the last three weeks I've taken a really strong look at this — and I had an overwhelming amount of folks contact me in opposition of passing this," she said.

Gilbert said she visited a couple of restaurants in Currituck where alcohol is served at dinner time and observed a noticeable difference in the clientele and their behavior afterward.

"The change of the atmosphere after the children were no longer in the establishment really changed my opinion on things," she said.

For his part, Beaumont again cited what he described as his Judeo-Christian values for his opposition. He also said commissioners needed to put leadership over business profits.  

Beaumont said Monday he takes particular issue with pro-brunch bill supporters’ claim that commissioners’ failure to support the ordinance would negatively affect visitors’ desire to dine at a Currituck restaurant.

“You have the option to stay in New Jersey or stay in New York or stay wherever you want to be and drink on Sunday morning," he said.

He also took issue with a statement that Daniel Lewis, president of the Outer Banks Restaurant Association, had made earlier during the public comment part of Monday’s meeting. Lewis told commissioners he had spoken recently with managers at the Food Lion and Harris Teeter grocery stores in Kill Devil Hills and Southern Shores after their towns approved similar ordinances allowing earlier Sunday alcohol sales. The store officials told him, Lewis said, that visitors to their stores were no longer upset by what they described as a “backward” law prohibiting them from buying alcohol before noon on Sundays.

Beaumont suggested Currituck shouldn’t have to cater to such visitor wishes.   

"Well, the reality is, if that's why you're not going to come to Currituck County and that's why you don't want to go Corolla's beach – because you can't drink for two extra hours on Sunday – then I would suggest to you this is still a free country – and (you should) go right on down the street," Beaumont said.

Other commissioners supporting the ordinance, however, said they didn’t believe they should impose their values on others. 

"I don't believe it is my right to determine how individuals should choose and what their values are," Payment said.

White said while the decision was a difficult one, he believes in separating religion from government.

"If it was up to the Mormons, we would have no alcohol sales, ever. If we went by the Catholic faith, everybody would eat fish on Friday," he said.

Hall suggested it was important for a tourism-based economy like Currituck’s to ensure that visitors are able to have "the total experience" of the vacation they want.

"It's about understanding people from different areas and different religions and different nationalities that come here," he said.

Etheridge said she received a number of phone calls urging her to oppose the ordinance. Store proprietors, however, had told her the ordinance would enhance their businesses.

"I don't think it's about profit," she said, referring to the ordinance. "We certainly can't regulate somebody's judgment."

Beaumont countered that the ordinance allowing earlier Sunday alcohol sales was only about allowing businesses to earn more profits.

"So, let's all be intellectually honest," he said. "This has everything to do about money."

During the public comment portion of the meeting, commissioners heard from both proponents and opponents of the ordinance. 

Citing statistics compiled by the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association, Currituck Chamber President Josh Bass, an ordinance supporter, said there are 127 alcoholic beverage permit holders in Currituck. He said allowing alcohol sales an extra two hours on Sundays had the potential to bring in $480 more a week for each permit holder, for a total of $60,960. If you multiplied that $60,960 by 14 — the number of weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day — the result is $853,000 more in revenue, just for that 3 1/2-month period, he said. 

"If this was a single company, that would be the kind of revenue we would be issuing press releases on – and the governor would be here making a major economic announcement," he said. "That's a lot of revenue for this county."

Shaun Belangia, who owns Greenside Bar and Grille in Lower Currituck, told commissioners while he understands Sunday is a church day, other people are on vacation that day.

"And honestly, not everyone goes to church, so I think we should let people decide their own moral high ground when it comes to that," Belangia said.

As a supporter of the measure, he also noted he is seeing an increasing trend toward brunch weddings, which he believes would mean lots of revenue for the county.

Charles Stevens, a minister at Providence Baptist Church in Shawboro, spoke against the ordinance. 

Stevens told commissioners that in his ministry he sees a  number of badly injured teenage boys at the hospital as a result of alcohol-related incidents. He asked commissioners what they would say to those boys' grieving parents and relatives.

"I don't think that we need to concern ourselves, honestly, about losing revenue," he said. “In my opinion, this is not the best way to bring revenue into our county."

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