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Wednesday, 13 September 2017 14:01

Bryson board says no to earlier alcohol sales

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As a room full of disappointed local business owners stood by, the Bryson City Board of Aldermen voted down a measure that would have extended alcohol sales on Sundays.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed the so-called “brunch bill” this year that gives local governments the authority to allow alcohol sales to begin at 10 a.m. Sundays instead of noon if they pass a local ordinance. Bryson City was also looking at possibly extending alcohol sales later than 6 p.m. — currently grocery and convenient stores can’t sell after 6 p.m. on Sundays per local ordinance.

Three of the four board members were opposed to changing its ordinances to allow more alcohol sales. Alderman Heidi Woodard-Ramsey was the only board member in favor of it.

Alderman Janine Crisp, who is up for election this year, made her position on the matter known during a board work session last month. In speaking to people in the community, she said she just couldn’t support a measure that offends the community’s Christian values.

“I made my statement last time and I stand by what I said. When I make a decision about something like this — I ask myself, ‘does it improve life or the well being for everyone’ — I can’t say that in this instance,” Crisp said.

Alderman Rick Bryson, also up for election this year, said he too had a problem with passing the ordinance extending alcohol sales on Sundays because it didn’t fit with Bryson City’s community standards.

“I’m astonished the so-called conservative legislature in Raleigh passed this bill at all,” he said. “I have a problem with alcohol being served when kids are in Sunday school — I think it’s inappropriate.”

Woodard-Ramsey tried to take a sensible and economic approach to getting the board to agree to pass the measure, but in the end, her efforts we’re enough to sway them. In a town that relies so much upon tourism dollars, Woodard-Ramsey said allowing earlier sales would not only bolster local businesses and make tourists happy, it would mean additional income for the town’s large number of service industry employees who rely on tips.

“Our town relies on the tourism industry to prosper — sometimes it doesn’t have all the benefits we want but they’re jobs we can take pride in,” she said. “With people being able to consume earlier, some businesses may open earlier to help workers get more hours.”

Woodard-Ramsey even conducted an online survey last month through Survey Monkey to gauge people’s feelings on the brunch bill. Out of 82 respondents, 64 strongly agreed the town should pass it while 17 were against it. The survey was sent out through Facebook and people could request a link through their email to fill one out as well.

“I wanted to reach a little further than people I see day to day and give people the sense of anonymity so they could be earnest in their feelings and not pressured to respond a certain way,” Woodard-Ramsey told the board at an Aug. 22 work session.

Alderman Jim Gribble said he thought Woodard-Ramsey’s survey was a bit biased so he decided to conduct his own survey in the community. While he didn’t disclose how many respondents he had total, he said 72 percent of them were opposed to passing the “brunch bill” locally. He did acknowledge that both surveys probably contained their own bias since the two aldermen come into contact with different groups of people in the community.

When Mayor Tom Sutton finally called for a vote, Woodard-Ramsey motioned to approve 10 a.m. sale and after 6 p.m. sales on Sunday but it failed for lack of a second.

Since the Bryson City board only allows public comment at the end of the meetings instead of before a vote is taken like many other municipalities, many of the “brunch bill” supporters left the meeting after the decision was made. Two local residents running for seats on the board this fall did stay to offer their thoughts on the decision.

Ben King, co-owner of Bryson City Outdoors, thanked Gribble for acknowledging his survey was also biased.

“There are different groups of this community that aren’t necessarily represented by each person, but hopefully by the collective, everyone gets represented,” he said.

Lisa Anthony Weeks told the board that she didn’t feel their decision represented her voice or many of the local business owners in town.

Pastor Patrick Breedlove on the other hand thanked the town board for looking at the social impact a well as the economic benefits of passing the measure.

“We’ll be keeping y’all in our prayers and hope you make godly decisions for the town,” he said.

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