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Gainesville council hears proposed 'happy hour' ordinance

POSTED: August 4, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Happy hours soon could become a part of the Gainesville day, but not all the city’s council members are pleased.

After researching other cities’ ordinances, City Marshal Debbie Jones proposed an ordinance Thursday to the City Council that would allow Gainesville restaurateurs to sell alcoholic drinks at a reduced price from 5-7 p.m.

The ordinance, though a loosening of the city’s current grip on alcoholic beverage sales, still has a heavy hand in how and when restaurateurs may conduct happy hours.

And even though restaurant owners can sell alcohol at a reduced price for those two hours, they still have to adhere to the city’s 50/50 rule, which requires that food sales comprise at least 50 percent of their revenue.

The ordinance prohibits selling alcoholic beverages at less than half-price, holding "all you can drink" specials, offering free drinks or selling beverages in pitchers or "jumbo" sizes for less than the normal price.

The ordinance also prohibits restaurants from using coupons or holding contests with a primary purpose of increasing the consumption of alcoholic beverages.

Jones said the proposed ordinance allowed for a "reasonable happy hour, with a set time so that you didn’t have people abusing it."

Councilman Danny Dunagan praised the changes at Thursday’s work session, and said allowing city restaurants to have happy hours will help them compete with other restaurants in the county.

Mayor Pro Tem Ruth Bruner agreed.

"I think this is going to be a great help for our businesses, especially downtown," Dunagan said.

"We want our restaurants and our businesses downtown to have the same advantages as Flowery Branch or Hall County to where they can stay in business."

Not all council members are supporting the changes, however, and Councilman George Wangemann said loosening the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinances to mimic surrounding cities would contradict Gainesville’s standards as a "family-oriented" community.

"I just think that based on community standards that we’ve had for a long time that we’ve got to try to maintain those standards here in Gainesville and thus be a little different from surrounding communities that may loosen their alcoholic beverage ordinances," Wangemann said.

The changes, however small, could open the city up to bigger, less desirable, changes in the way of alcoholic beverage ordinances, Wangemann said.

"It’s a little bit like the old story about the camel who poked his nose in the tent, and eventually, the camel was in the tent," Wangemann said. "I just think we’re going inch-by-inch here by loosening our alcoholic beverage ordinances, and eventually the camel will be in the tent and we won’t know how to get him out of the tent."

Councilman Robert "Bob" Hamrick did not agree to put the item on the agenda for the council’s next meeting, either.

"I just feel that the business owners have other ways of generating revenue other than to reduce the cost of a drink," Hamrick said after the work session.

"You want businesses to be successful, but I just think this is the wrong way to go about (it)."

The council is set to vote on the proposed ordinance Tuesday, along with a slew of amendments that bring the city’s alcoholic beverage ordinances up to speed with state laws.



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