WV cities look ahead to ‘brunch bill’ benefits

KENNY KEMP | Gazette-Mail
Brunch drinks: Bloody Mary, mimosa.

Three hours might not seem like much, but the economic impact for the roughly 120 establishments to benefit from Charleston and South Charleston’s “brunch bills” is predicted to be anything but miniscule.

Bill 7702 — which will allow establishments with on-premises alcohol licenses to sell beer, wine and liquor starting at 10 a.m. Sundays instead of 1 p.m. — has sailed through the Charleston City Council’s legislative process.

Monday was no different as the Council voted to pass the bill, making Charleston among the first cities in West Virginia with Home Rule to do so.

The bill goes into effect immediately.

West Virginia State University economics professor Frew Hailou prepared an economic impact study released in June that analyzes not only the estimated revenue to travel and tourism spending in Kanawha County, but also annual state and local government tax revenue from increased visitor spending.

Commissioned by Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, the study encompasses all of Kanawha County, but Walters said he still thinks it’s a reliable tool because “the majority of economic impact would be in the more metropolitan areas of the county,” such as Charleston and South Charleston, he said.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a recuperation model to estimate the economic value of three additional brunch hours, the analysis predicts an annual revenue increase of more than $876,000 — or just below five percent — for Kanawha County restaurants and bars.

While businesses and residents already are planning brunch events and specials for after the bill goes into effect, Kanawha County’s tourism industry is likely to see the greatest effects.

“Spending by all overnight and day visitors in 2014 contributed $555.4 million to the economy of the county. During this same period, the travel and tourism industry employed 4,400 residents, while generating $113.1 million in labor income and contributing $39.6 million in state tax revenue and $5 million in local government tax revenue,” according to the study.

It goes on to predict that, with the modified hours related to Sunday alcohol sales, annual revenue from visitor spending will rise by more than $7 million and create 70 new jobs directly related to the travel and tourism industry.

“An additional 31 jobs will be created in closely related industries, such as suppliers of goods and services to hotels, motels, resorts and recreation,” the study says.

The Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau has been a vocal supporter of the brunch bill. It recently started an event on Facebook called “Let’s Do Brunch!” The event outlines which restaurants will offer special menu options and alcoholic drinks for Sunday, Aug. 7, when establishments can first take advantage of the new law.

“This is such an exciting time in Charleston,” said Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Alisa Bailey. “Now with Uber, Autopods [and] brunch, it feels like we’re a progressive metropolitan area. That makes it easier for us to sell, when we have amenities like this in the city.”

After Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill this year allowing counties and cities with Home Rule to pass their own respective brunch bills, Shepherdtown was the first in the state to do so.

Marianne Davis, director of the Shepherdstown Visitor Center, said it’s been a “boom” for the town’s tourism.

“From our point of view, it’s important to us that we never send people away, and let people enjoy themselves as much as they can,” Davis said. “The brunch bill really completes their weekend with us.”

Due to Sheperdstown’s close vicinity to Maryland and Virginia, “we were killing ourselves by giving away that business,” she said.

Davis said the bill received “no opposition at all,” from city officials, and added that Jefferson County plans to include a brunch bill on the November ballot so that restaurants outside the city limits also can benefit from Sunday morning alcohol sales.

While the majority of eligible establishments in Kanawha County lie within Charleston or South Charleston, it’s important to note that a few areas won’t be included, such as Sissonville and Cross Lanes.

Restaurants in those areas would need to rely on the Kanawha County Commission, which may or may not decide to place its own brunch bill on the November ballot.

During its July 21 meeting, the South Charleston City Council voted to move its ordinance to a second reading. It was unclear whether the council will take a full vote on the ordinance at its meeting Thursday. Calls made to the South Charleston clerk’s office were not returned Monday.

Other municipalities with Home Rule to vote on Sunday morning alcohol sales include Clarksburg, Martinsburg, Bluefield and Lewisburg.

The question of statewide, Sunday morning on-premises alcohol sales will be revisited in future legislative sessions, Walters said. The Legislature, particularly the House of Delegates, has stifled such attempts in previous years.

“There are other areas that need to have relief from government overreach,” Walters said.

“This is an issue that will be revisited at a later time. I just don’t know that next year it will be there,” he said, adding that the opinion of those in leadership positions play a major role in deciding whether bills make it out of committee meetings or not.

Reach Elaina Sauber at elaina.sauber@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-3051 or follow @ElainaSauber on Twitter.

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