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City bellies up to ‘brunch bill’

No champagne corks were popping, but the atmosphere was festive all the same when the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners approved a “brunch bill” measure that will allow Sunday morning alcohol sales in town.

This occurred in a 5-0 vote Thursday, after one commissioner who had opposed that move when it was first permitted statewide in 2017 said he was wrong and a representative of a downtown winery urged its adoption locally to benefit tourism.

“My reasoning was not good,” Commissioner Jon Cawley said of that earlier stance.

The N.C. General Assembly passed the so-called brunch bill in June 2017. Senate Bill 155 gave local governments the power to decide whether businesses including wineries, bars, stores, breweries and restaurants can sell alcoholic beverages beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays, instead of noon.

Pilot Mountain and Dobson acted in 2017 to permit Sunday morning sales in those towns. But Mount Airy officials did not follow suit or even discuss the matter, except for addressing it during a candidates’ forum in October of that year.

“I won’t support that,” Commissioner Cawley, also a member of the local ministry, said then — citing his religious beliefs. Cawley thought Sunday morning should continue to be set aside as a time for church activities that are not encroached upon or interfered with by the expansion of alcohol sales.

The brunch bill issue languished for more than two years, until Jay Roberts, a Pinnacle egg farmer who sells to local restaurants, revived it in December when urging city officials during a public forum to adopt its provisions.

This led to the matter appearing on the agenda for the commissioners’ meeting Thursday afternoon at the urging of Cawley, who said he now has a different take on the brunch bill.

“It’s been gnawing on me,” he said while telling the audience at City Hall how his thinking on the issue has changed.

One reason involves biblical history.

“The Sabbath has never been Sunday and it will never be Sunday,” Cawley said in reference to its inaccurate designation as the Sabbath, or time of rest. “It’s the seventh day, which is Saturday.”

Cawley also said that when identifying activities preventing one from attending religious services, a popular sport should be viewed as more of a culprit than alcohol sales.

“I love golf and golf keeps more people out of church each Sunday than any brunch bill,” he reasoned. “So I apologize.”

Cawley said his apology includes his initial opposition to the bill and the fact it has taken so long to be considered by the city council.

Business support

After the brunch bill was mentioned in December by Roberts, the egg farmer, Commissioner Steve Yokeley said in a follow-up interview that he wanted to see a demonstrated economic benefit of the measure.

Yokeley said then that it also would help to have local restaurant or winery operators who favor Sunday morning alcohol sales to express those views to Mount Airy officials.

That’s exactly what happened during Thursday afternoon’s council meeting, when Ed Badgett III, the chef, manager and sommelier (trained and knowledgeable wine professional) at Old North State Winery downtown spoke on the issue.

“I think this town has changed quite a lot since 2017,” Badgett said of growth in the local wine and craft beer industries.

“The winery used to be the only game downtown,” he added regarding Old North State. “So it didn’t make much sense to have that brunch bill.”

But Badgett said the landscape is now different, both here and elsewhere, highlighting a need for change in Mount Airy.

“I work every Sunday,” he said of his job at Old North State, “and I see the tourists come.”

Badgett said he often faces the difficult task of informing customers that they can’t have a wine tasting on Sunday mornings.

“And they don’t understand this restriction,” he said in reference to those from other areas without such a prohibition.

The same is true for tourists who might want to buy a bottle of wine while heading out of town on a Sunday morning, and have been prevented from doing that.

People leave with a negative impression of Mount Airy as a result, Badgett thinks, which can be altered by embracing the brunch bill objectives.

“I think this will be a great benefit to our town.”

Commissioners agree

In addition to Cawley, other board members expressed support for the Sunday morning sales.

“I’m very much in favor of it,” Yokeley said. “I think it’s important for at least two reasons.”

Yokeley said city officials should support local restaurants and other affected businesses as much as they can.

Plus, the brunch bill will generate more sales tax proceeds for the municipality, which has been exploring new ideas to boost finances. “This is one way we can increase our revenue,” Yokeley said.

He also doesn’t believe the brunch bill will serve to keep folks out of church.

Mayor David Rowe agreed, saying that as a devout Baptist he wasn’t in favor of it, but people who want to attend services will do so regardless.

The commissioners’ subsequent unanimous vote of approval was greeted by applause from the audience.

Effective date unclear

City Attorney Hugh Campbell had advised the board earlier that all it took to allow the Sunday morning sales here was at least four-fifths’ support by the commissioners, with no public hearing required.

“I don’t think there is any other authority that has to approve it,” Campbell said.

Although the city attorney was of the belief the brunch bill change is “enacted now,” later discussions between him and Clerk Nicki Brame suggested that it must be “codified” first — or officially entered into the Mount Airy Code of Ordinances.

It was not known Thursday exactly when this will occur.

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Ed Badgett III, the chef, manager and sommelier (trained and knowledgeable wine professional) at Old North State Winery in downtown Mount Airy, urges city officials to embrace Senate Bill 155 locally. Badgett III, the chef, manager and sommelier (trained and knowledgeable wine professional) at Old North State Winery in downtown Mount Airy, urges city officials to embrace Senate Bill 155 locally.
Will allow Sunday morning alcohol sales

By Tom Joyce

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.



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