CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County leaders issued new restrictions on late-night alcohol sales Wednesday that will impact most of the county.
The new business proclamation bans onsite food and drink consumption after 11 p.m. in places that serve alcohol. That applies to indoor and outdoor seating. Restaurants that serve alcohol will only be able to offer takeout and delivery after 11 p.m.
The last call also applies to breweries, wineries and other places that serve beer, wine and liquor.
Restaurants that don’t serve alcohol can remain open for on-site consumption.
The day before the announcement, Channel 9 government reporter Joe Bruno got his hands on the proclamation that was signed by county officials along with leaders in Charlotte, Matthews, Davidson, Mint Hill and Pineville.
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said leaders in Huntersville and Cornelius will not be included because they do not feel their areas have an issue with overcrowded restaurants like what’s being seen in Charlotte.
The order also bans places from allowing people to eat or drink while sitting or standing at the bar and puts a hold on shared touch games like pool, darts and pinball.
All outdoor activities and gatherings will be limited to 25 people, with the exception of church weddings and funerals.
The restrictions will go into effect Thursday and will run concurrently with the governor’s Phase 2 order, which will be in place until at least Aug. 7.
It’s a misdemeanor for violating the new restrictions.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department Deputy Chief Jeff Estes said his department will warn and educate first before issuing citations. He said officers won’t crack down immediately because they don’t want to unintentionally cite a business that thinks it’s doing the right thing, but they will be keeping a close eye on known offenders.
“We believe it will be one we can enforce the spirit of it with compliance,” he said.
According to Estes, officers will talk to business owners leading up to 11 p.m. to ensure sales are cut off on time.
This order is being put into place because some local restaurants have been operating as a clubs with crowds of people not wearing masks or social distancing.
In most cases, it’s younger adults who tend to frequent bars and restaurants late at night and that’s the age group health officials are concerned about.
Channel 9 dug through metrics for the last three months and found that on April 22, people between 20 and 39 years old accounted for 31% of COVID-19 cases in the county. The percentage grew through May and June before leveling off in early July at around 44%. If you combine that with the 18-25 age group, you’re at almost 60% of cases.
We’ve also seen the first three deaths in that age group all in the last week.
Channel 9′s Susanna Black caught up with young people who said they think the new rules are needed to keep crowds from getting out of control. One of them even referenced videos of huge crowds outside establishments like Ink N Ivy in uptown and Explicit Bistro & Lounge at the AvidXchange Music Factory
“I think people are manipulating the situation of having restaurants and taking advantage of having that bar-like atmosphere without going to a bar and I think if that’s something we need to give up right now that’s fair and fine and we can get back to it when its safe,” resident Madeleine Campbell said.
Another resident said the key will be people taking the order seriously.
“I think this is going to take some time to get used to just like the beginning of quarantine we were upset at the beginning but it will be effective once people take it seriously,” Kayle Wood said.
County leaders hope this move helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and Gov. Roy Cooper agrees.
“Those decisions can be a good one,” Cooper said. “My dad used to tell me nothing good happens after 11 p.m. Well people do when they are in bars and are together or in restaurants, they could increase the spread of the virus and it’s a toll that could be used to slow that down.”
In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster issued a “last call” order, banning the sale of alcohol at bars and restaurants after 11 p.m. In North Carolina, Orange County, which includes Chapel Hill, says businesses won’t be able to sell alcohol after 10 p.m and restaurants will also have to close dining rooms by 10 p.m.
Mecklenburg County’s restrictions will look more like Orange County’s than South Carolina’s.
When the county first initiated the proclamation, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles said she would sign it.
Leaders in Cornelius and Huntersville are not following Mecklenburg County’s new mandate to close dining at 11 p.m. for restaurants that sell alcohol.
“When we did hear about the proposed additional restrictions, the mayor and the board sought input from the police chief and town manager,” Mayor Pro tem Denis Bilodeau said. “And what we heard is that we have compliance and in our town, and for the half dozen or so restaurants that would be impacted.”
There are 299 cases of COVID-19 and 16 deaths in Cornelius. Bilodeau said that data played a role in their decision.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We keep a close eye on the impact of COVID in our town and when you look at those numbers, if you dig into that, you’ll see quite a number of those, particularly, unfortunately, the deaths were with one facility, senior housing facility and that, and the numbers are relatively stable when you get past that particular issue.”
Saeed Safare, who owns Saeed’s Bar and Grill in Cornelius, said his large indoor and outdoor bar and restaurant has been operating at 50% capacity for the last few weeks.
He said he was concerned about the new restrictions.
“There’s people that get off at 5 o’clock, and there’s people that got off at 11 o’clock and it’s only fair for some people to go maybe from 11 o’clock to 12 for a couple casual drinks,” Safare said. “It would affect us very much.”
Other restaurants in the area said they are closed by 11 p.m. anyway so the alcohol ban wouldn’t have done much.
Ronald Sullivan, the general manager at Prosciutto’s Pizza in Cornelius, said they are closed by 9:30 p.m. For Prosciutto’s, being able to sell alcohol for delivery had been helping them weather these hard times.
“We have an off-premise license so we can sell bottles of wine and six-packs of beer for delivery and people are taking advantage of that so that hasn’t been much of an issue,” Sullivan said.
Huntersville Commissioner Stacy Phillips said her initial reaction was to support the new restrictions.
Phillips said she thought more about all the business owners and workers the new rule would affect.
“It’s not about money,” Phillips said. “Money comes and goes but for these residents, money is a tool that helps them to survive and losing three to four hours a day in your paycheck could mean the difference in keeping your home and ending up in eviction court -- the difference in having a meal for your family or having to go to one of our overly exhausted food pantries.
Phillips added, “I came from it from that perspective because I cannot punish workers from these establishments for a few businesses in Charlotte, frankly, who have caused a problem.”
Just when Ed’s Tavern in Dilworth was finally getting into the swing of things in Phase 2, the way they can do business is changing again.
“It’s probably going to definitely put a damper on us,” General Manager Mike Morelli said.
Morelli said he has no choice but to adapt to Mecklenburg County’s new restrictions on alcohol sales.
He said he and his patrons have been following Phase 2 rules by the book, but understands others haven’t.
“I kind of understand it since no one is allowed to make money for so long but when you’re doing that it ruins it for everybody,” he said.
Ed’s Tavern will be affected by all of it, but Morelli said he’s rolling with the punches.
The owner of The Waterman Fish Bar in South End also said adjusting to the new restrictions will be difficult.
“It is a big hit for anybody that serves alcohol,” owner Paul Manley said. “Less sales, less work, less jobs, less revenue for the business, all of those things.”
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