Sunday mornings will pour at The Unknown Brewing Co.
Charlotte-area residents might not have to wait much longer to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack on Sunday mornings, but the portion of the “brunch bill” that includes grocery store sales almost wasn’t added.
Legislation originally would have allowed morning alcohol sales only for restaurants, with retailers having to still wait until noon.
Advocates successfully pushed to include retailers in the bill that passed the N.C. Senate. A version in a House committee included only restaurants, but retailers were added back to the approved bill.
“For our grocery stores, Sunday is one of the biggest shopping days of the week,” said Elizabeth Robinson, senior director of government relations for the N.C. Retail Merchants Association. “We think it would have a significant economic impact.”
Restaurants and retailers have one more hurdle to start selling alcohol two hours earlier at 10 a.m. – approval from local governments. The state law lets each city and county decide whether to extend the hours.
Charlotte City Council could vote as soon as July 24. The measure would affect restaurants, grocery stores and any place with a permit to sell alcohol.
“I’m a big advocate of putting it on our agenda as soon as possible to help our business community,” Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts said.
Huntersville commissioners and Mecklenburg County commissioners plan to vote Tuesday. The county vote would affect only unincorporated areas.
“We’ve been supportive of easing other regulations and restrictions of the alcoholic beverage industry in North Carolina, and I think it’s important for us to support these other initiatives as well,” said Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, a Republican.
Including grocery stores
Retailers see the bill as a boon to both restaurant and grocery businesses.
Grocery store chains Food Lion, Harris Teeter and Publix said in separate statements that as local ordinances pass, the “brunch bill” would allow them to better serve their customers.
Customers have been asking for this change for people out running errands or fans stocking up before their tailgate, said Edward Cooper, vice president of public affairs for Total Wine and More.
“We were supportive of the bill because our customers asked for it,” he said.
Cooper said an extra two hours of shopping may not seem like a lot, but Sunday sales in other states show that the demand is there. He said Total Wine is willing to change its operating hours to get the extra business.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said he expects alcohol retailers to pressure communities to move quickly to minimize opposition. Creech had been a voice of opposition before the bill passed because of concerns about public health and insensitivity to Sunday religious services.
Creech said as communities learn about the legislation, he thinks the support will vary between large cities and small towns.
“I think it will be interesting to see what kind of patchwork occurs,” he said.
Benefits for tailgate parties
The Unknown Brewery on South Mint Street, a few blocks from Bank of America Stadium, already had opened its parking lot to tailgaters on Sundays when the Panthers played. But the brewery itself couldn’t open until noon.
“That’s a couple hours where they’re drinking Bud Light and Coors Light instead of Unknown,” said marketing director Scotty Kent. “This bill being passed is awesome for us.”
Kent said the brewery is renovating its taproom and moving ahead with plans to add a rooftop patio, partly in anticipation of the change.
“It only made sense to improve the atmosphere, but when we realized there was a potential for this bill being passed, we tried to expedite the process,” he said.
Zack Luttrell has been tailgating for 20 years and founded the Roaring Riot, a Charlotte-based Carolina Panthers fan club. Luttrell said he sees the biggest impact of the new legislation on late tailgaters who can’t find one of the limited parking spots or don’t want to pay increased prices for parking, and choose to spend their time at a bar close to the stadium before the game.
The South End location of Bulldog Beer and Wine, about half a mile from Bank of America Stadium, is a bar and retail shop for craft beers. Rob Johnson, the owner, said tailgaters and fans show up between 10 and 11 a.m., but by the time his business can start serving at noon, customers are already on their way to the stadium.
“You had best have bought your alcohol or else you won’t have any alcohol for the tailgate,” Johnson said. He said extra selling time in the morning would give businesses a head start, and Bulldog would change its hours to take advantage.
Sunday morning alcohol sales would help the football fans on a last-minute beer run or those who run out of drinks, said Charlie Mulligan, the CEO of Brewpublik, a Charlotte-based craft beer delivery service.
With a local ordinance in Charlotte, customers could purchase what they want, when they want it, he said. For Mulligan’s business, they can take last-minute Sunday morning orders and deliver beers to tailgaters before a game.
“Trying to get people to think ahead a couple days is difficult,” Mulligan said.