Brunch Bill would allow earlier Sunday alcohol sales

Updated: Jan. 31, 2018 at 10:56 PM EST
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GEORGIA (WTOC) - A Georgia Senate bill would allow restaurants and retail stores to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday mornings.

The Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee voted 6-4 on Tuesday in favor of the Brunch Bill proposed by Sen. Renee Unterman, R-District 45. The bill allows Sunday sales of alcohol starting at 11 a.m. if local voters allow it.

Right now, restaurants and stores can't sell alcohol until 12:30 p.m. on Sundays, and Savannah eateries say their bars are slammed with orders once they can take orders.

"We do get a massive rush," said Mitchell Phillips, a barista at The Collins Quarter. "We ring bells, and everybody cheers. You get a huge influx of alcohol orders right then."

It's the same story at B. Matthew's Eatery on Bay Street in downtown Savannah.

"At 12:30, there's a mad rush at the bar, so the bartender, whoever the bartender is, gets pretty slammed," said Brian Huskey, owner of the Gaslight Group that owns B. Matthew's Eatery. "It takes a few minutes to kind of get caught up because the entire restaurant will, for the most part, will order something from the bar."

Phillips said he often feels like he regularly disappoints customers, especially tourists, who come in before 12:30 p.m. and ask for an alcoholic drink.

"Especially with it being a town where, like, the night before they might have been able to walk around with to-go drinks, and so they would expect the alcohol laws to be pretty lax," he said. "Then they come in and find out they can't order alcohol at all in the morning on Sunday, so it is a big surprise for a lot of the tourists. I would like to see it change for the business, for the customers, and for myself so I don't have to be such a bearer of bad news every week on Sunday."

Ebony Harris is visiting from Tampa, and she didn't know about Georgia's Sunday sale restrictions until Wednesday.

"Not everybody wants to have a nightlife," Harris said. "Sometimes you just want to enjoy yourself during the daytime. So, if you're enjoying yourself during the daytime, not to be able to go out and get an adult beverage is kind of prohibitive. I wouldn't want to come to Savannah and not be able to just enjoy myself."

Huskey said many customers wait until they can drink before heading to a restaurant for brunch. B. Matthew's Eatery opens at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and Huskey said additional hours of alcohol sale could mean hundreds of extra dollars in weekly earnings.

"We would see somewhere between $200-$500 increase in sales on Sunday if this mimosa mandate or brunch bill passes, and I believe it," Huskey said.

Especially with increasing prices of goods and labor, Huskey says the bill is an opportunity to help manage his cash flow.

"This is just another opportunity for us to make a little more money to offset some of those costs," he said. "Plus, it's giving the visitor something that they want because that's what we're here for."

Stacy Stover works in the restaurant industry in Jacksonville, NC, where city leaders recently moved up Sunday sales from noon to 10 a.m., but was visiting Savannah Wednesday. She said she's already seen a positive economic impact.

"It's really helped, like I said, not just the patrons get out there earlier, but also the restaurant industry, bar industry, as well as off-premise grocery stores, gas stations get their sales a little earlier in the day," she said.

"Some of the laws that were passed years and years and years ago really aren't applicable anymore, so I think it's time. It's definitely time to change it," Huskey said.

Alexa Frame, who is from Savannah, but lived away for a number of years, said she understands the potential religious concerns about alcohol sales on Sunday mornings but agrees the law should be changed.

"I think that if it's to accommodate religious purposes, I think that that's pertinent, but I don't think it's going to stop drinking," Frame said. "I think if people are going to drink, they're going to drink at home anyway, so whether or not you're allowing it in a restaurant or a different venue outside of your home, I don't think it's going to stop the consumption experience. What I do think is by changing the law, you can also increase sales, the economy, and taxes. I think tourism, revenue, the economy is all boosted in a positive way. The people who choose not to drink for spiritual and religious purposes will choose not to, but in the meantime, you're impeding businesses abilities to continue to generate revenue."

Sen. Unterman said the bill is being recommitted back to committee. If it passes, it would then be sent to the Senate Rules Committee, which would decide if it will take up the matter. If it does and it passes, the bill then heads to the Senate for a vote. It would need to pass there and in the House before it could become a law, and then local voters would see the proposal on a ballot for a final decision.

Sen. Lester Jackson, D- District 2, is a sponsor of the bill, but didn't respond to requests for comment.

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