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Restaurants look to brunch bill on ballot

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Pat Pelley, owner of Books and Brews on Main Street in Hurricane. The business might reinstitute Sunday hours if county voters pass a “brunch bill” referendum that would allow restaurants to serve alcohol starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Playing a boardgame at Books and Brews at the table are (left to right) Asher Stevens, Layla Hudson, Amber Stevens and Evelyn Stevens.
CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail
Books and Brews on Main Street in Hurricane.

Sunday brunch is often a good time for many restaurants across the United States, with customers ordering mimosas and Bloody Marys, to prop up local businesses. But for restaurants in much of West Virginia, Sunday morning can be a little dry.

“A lot of people that come and visit from out of the area don’t realize that we can’t serve drinks until 1 o’clock,” said Megan Hetzer, the co-owner of Backyard Pizza and Raw Bar in Huntington. “I think it’d be really good for business if we were able to get drinks out sooner.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed SB 298, commonly known as the “brunch bill,” into law in March. It allows counties to request a referendum for voters in the upcoming election to decide if they want bars, restaurants and wineries to serve alcohol starting at 10 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Several cities that are a part of the state’s municipal home rule program have already been able to implement the bill, including Charleston in August. But cities that aren’t part of that program, and counties that requested the referendum will have to wait and see what voters say in the election.

Putnam County is one of the counties which has the brunch bill on the ballot.

“The business community certainly thinks it’s a good thing,” said Putnam County Commissioner Joe Haynes. “When you have neighboring cities ... that have already passed it, you want to be competitive with them and bring in business.”

Books and Brews, a used bookstore which also serves food, coffee and alcoholic beverages based in Hurricane, initially was open for business on Sundays. However, customers wanting a drink had to wait until 1 p.m. to do so, which made it difficult to draw in a crowd, according to manager Dustin Ferrell.

He said if the bill gets passed, they would strongly consider opening back up on Sunday.

Licensed establishments such as Books and Brews, along with visitors bureaus and business organizations across West Virginia, have virtually all been in favor of the bill being implemented across all of West Virginia to help local restaurants in the struggling state economy.

According to Jim Ruland, chairman of the Eastern Panhandle Business Association, restaurants in counties near Virginia and Maryland are facing stiff competition from establishments in the neighboring states. He added that if restaurants are hurting, hotels and local attractions will also see a reduced customer base.

“The whole reason for needing this to be passed has to do with the detrimental effect the current law has on business in general throughout the area,” Ruland said. “Since we are so close to other state jurisdictions, folks can take the option of going somewhere else.”

David Olive, manager of Fat Patty’s in Teays Valley, said customers that come from the nearby Hampton Inn are surprised at the law and expecting a drink while watching Sunday football.

But not everyone in the county is on board with the idea, according to Ben Newhouse, the city manager of Hurricane. He said some citizens have raised concerns at recent county meetings about allowing the sale of alcohol before 1 p.m.

“Here in Putnam County, and we just don’t get a lot of grants from the feds or the state,” he said. “So we shouldn’t stop people from having a beer somewhere because that could raise a lot of money for us.”

Ferrell pointed to Charleston as an example of how the brunch bill can positively impact and bring more money into the state.

“We’re good friends of a lot of small business owners in Charleston, and they said they tend to do really well on Sundays,” he said.

The referendum is not on the ballot for Kanawha County voters, with the county commission saying businesses in Charleston were the only ones asking for the bill.

However, Alisa Bailey, president and CEO of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the bill should have just been passed as a state law so businesses everywhere could partake.

“I find the whole law archaic,” she said. “I just think the brunch bill is an economic development tool. It helps small businesses become more profitable, and it improves the image of our state and locality.”

Bailey said a few restaurants in Charleston that have been closed on Sundays are considering opening up for business again on that day because of the brunch bill, including Bridge Road Bistro, Soho’s and Bricks and Barrels.

West Virginia State University economics professor Frew Hailou estimated that three extra hours of alcohol sales in Kanawha County will bring in an additional revenue of more than $876,000, in a study he prepared for the city council in August.

“I can’t see the downside to this,” Ruland said. “If people don’t want to drink, then it’s simple: don’t. But don’t prevent anyone else who may wish to partake, and certainly don’t penalize surrounding businesses because of the effect of prohibiting it.”

Reach Max Garland at max.garland@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4886 or follow @MaxGarlandTypes on Twitter.

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