Earlier Sunday alcohol sales OK'd

Jim Nye.jpg

Jim Nye


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Friday, August 18, 2017

Alcohol sales at Elizabeth City restaurants and convenience stories can start two hours earlier this coming Sunday. 

Elizabeth City City Council this week became the latest local government in North Carolina to approve an ordinance allowing alcohol sales before noon on Sundays.

Council voted 6-1 Monday night to approve alcohol sales on Sundays starting at 10 a.m. Fourth Ward Councilor Darius Horton cast the lone “no” vote against the ordinance.

Previously, state law forbid Sunday alcohol sales before noon, but Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law the so-called “brunch bill” in June. The omnibus alcohol law allows local governments to adopt ordinances allowing Sunday sales starting at 10 a.m.

Council approved the ordinance following a public hearing at which speakers only spoke favorably of the change.

The Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce endorsed earlier sales, Chamber President Mike Hindenach told council. Chamber members who are restaurants “overwhelmingly” support the change, he said.

“A couple are very excited about the opportunity to provide this option to their customers,” he said.

Elizabeth City Downtown Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant also reported that James Nye, owner of the Hoppin' Johnz restaurant in downtown Elizabeth City, had sent her a letter of support for the change.

“I am a restaurateur of 47 years and can find no rationale that would lead to not adopting this,” Malenfant said, reading from Nye’s letter.

Nye continued that “prime brunch hours” are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and North Carolina's restaurants are at a disadvantage on Sundays because they previously weren’t allowed to sell alcohol for half of that period. Nye also said he would consider opening on Sundays if council passed the ordinance.

Counter-arguments for allowing earlier alcohol sales include potentially enabling irresponsible alcohol consumption or pulling people away from church. Nye claimed legal officials had advised him that driving-under-the-influence citations stem from drinking on Saturday nights, not midday on Sundays.

Also speaking in favor of the ordinance was Dean Schaan, who plans to open a microbrewery on Water Street. The city should support businesses and “not use this as an opportunity to judge morality based on what time someone buys alcohol on Sundays,” he said.

Joseph Persico, a city resident, also spoke in favor of the change. He said he believes in separation of church and state, and could see only religious reasons to oppose earlier alcohol sales. Persico is notably a member of the citizens' group Northeast NC Progressives, but he said he was only speaking for himself.

Councilors approved the earlier-alcohol-sales ordinance with little discussion.

Horton didn't explain his opposition to earlier Sunday sales during Monday's meeting. In a followup interview on Tuesday, Horton said he opposed the change due to his “personal conviction” as a clergyman. There was a time alcohol sales weren't allowed at all on Sunday, and he explained he believes people should be focused on worship on Sundays.

Though voting his faith on the issue, Horton said he wasn't against the restaurant industry, and said he expected it would benefit from earlier alcohol sales.

Though previously opposed to the ordinance, Councilor Johnnie Walton said he didn't oppose alcohol and was “done” with the issue. He also explained anyone determined to abuse alcohol would do so regardless of when it was sold on Sunday.

Elizabeth City is only the latest of several local governments to allow Sunday morning alcohol sales. Currituck commissioners voted 5-2 last week to approve earlier Sunday alcohol sales in that county.

According to the N.C. League of Municipalities, the town of Carrboro, in Orange County, was the first municipality to adopt earlier alcohol sales, and the state's most populous cities, Charlotte and Raleigh, have also approved Sunday morning alcohol sales.

The NCLM doesn't know how many municipalities statewide have allowed Sunday morning alcohol sales, a spokesman wrote in an email Tuesday.