Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Council Prohibits Extended Liquor Store Hours

It will be a blue, blue Christmas Eve for liquor store owners who had hoped to start selling at 9 a.m. instead of 1 p.m.

Both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Sundays this year and a so-called blue law prohibits sale of alcohol until early afternoon, when presumably folks have already been to church to observe the Sabbath. Owners sought City Council approval to waive the prohibition, but the council voted 3-2 to uphold it, even though officials said a precedent existed for the early opening.

Councilmen Harold Gibson, Rashid Burney and Elliott Simmons voted “no” Wednesday and Councilwoman Linda Carter and Council President Rayland Van Blake voted “yes.” Councilmen Cory Storch and Don Davis were absent for the vote.

Carter had asked for reassurance that in past years the city had allowed 9 a.m. openings when holidays fell on Sundays. After receiving confirmation Wednesday that it was past practice, she voted in favor.

Storch came to the meeting after the vote, but said he had intended to go with the majority. On Monday, Don Davis said he endorsed the early opening as a business matter, because consumers would go out of the city to other towns with early openings. Had all been present, Storch would have been placed in the position of tie-breaker.

Gibson said Monday he felt people would not be inconvenienced by the 1 p.m. opening and that the early opening might increase public drinking.

The city has had a significant problem with open-air alcohol consumption and related issues of intoxication, littering and victimization of drunk individuals.

Having more than its fair share of liquor establishments, city officials tried to pare them down by increasing license fees to the maximum allowable and aggressively monitoring licensees for offenses.

From one of Plaintalker’s first entries in 2005:

State law now limits issuance of new licenses so that there will be no more than one consumption license for every 3,000 residents or no more than one distribution license per 7,500 of a municipality's population.
PLAINFIELD population - 47,829
Consumption (3,000) = 15.9
Distribution (7,500) = 6.4

Because Plainfield licenses predate this formula, the city has more than double the amount of liquor stores allowable under the new rule. The number of bars and restaurants serving liquor rose to the point a few years ago that legislation was passed empowering the city to buy out a license, if warranted.

--Bernice Paglia


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