Four people delivered comment during the public hearing preceding the vote, all in favor of the measure — the number included three downtown restaurant owners and the director of Jackson County’s Tourism Development Authority.
“I think this potentially could have a huge impact on our town as well as the folks who work in these businesses that will have the opportunity to bring in more tips as the average transaction increases,” said Bernadette Peters, owner of City Lights Café.
Jeannette Evans, owner of Mad Batter Food & Film, added that the bill could make things easier on employees in another way — by making them less susceptible to getting caught on an ABC sting by accidentally selling alcohol at 9:59 a.m. She anticipated the earlier sales having a positive impact on tourism as well.
“I think it would encourage people to stay in town an extra day and enjoy our town, maybe walk around a bit longer and look at shops,” she said.
Nick Breedlove, director of the TDA, underscored the potential benefit to local businesses, pointing out that on Wilmington’s first day of earlier Sunday sales, Blackfinn Ameripub reported more than 650 mimosas sold at that single establishment, a figure that doesn’t include any other type of alcoholic drink order.
“Local businesses are not the only ones who stand to benefit from adopting the ordinance,” he continued. “Local patrons will have a greater selection of brunch venues, while increased sales will generate more tax revenue for both local and state governments. The positive impact of this ordinance will only grow as brunch continues to become an increasingly popular setting for families to celebrate weddings, anniversaries and other special occasions and an integral part of people’s travel experience.”
When it came time to vote on the measure, Commissioner Harold Hensley was the only one of the five to oppose it, though he didn’t comment on the issue during the meeting.
“That’s fine if they want to start selling alcohol after 12, but it’s like I say I’m not a great religious man but it’s just interfering too much with the church I think,” Hensley said in a follow-up interview. “And all the people that supported me feel that I voted the right way and that’s who I’m down there to please is the people who put me down there.”
During her comments to the board, The Cut Cocktail Lounge co-owner Jacque Laura addressed that argument.
“People who drink are going to drink,” she said. “People who don’t drink don’t have to come into a place that is serving alcohol.”
The remaining commissioners expressed their satisfaction with the decision upon casting their votes.
“The only reason I wouldn’t vote for it is because it doesn’t go far enough,” said Commissioner David Nestler. “I think it’s great and it’s a step in the right direction. A lot of our alcohol laws are antiquated, so I’m glad they’re remedying this one.”
Commissioner Greg McPherson added his hope that the earlier alcohol sales will provide a boost to a slower area of Sylva’s economy.
“I think that’s one of the main drags on our economy here is that everything is closed on Sundays,” he said.
Commissioner Barbara Hamilton directed her comments toward the business owners sitting in the audience.
“We’re trying our best to support business owners,” she said. “It may not be what everybody likes, but those that do (drink) should be able to do that, and I’m hoping that it does help your businesses and your employees.”
The ordinance became effective immediately following its passage, with multiple downtown businesses serving up mimosas on Sunday morning just days later.