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Growler bars could sell more beer, less wine under Gainesville proposal
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Clay Kelley, right, talks to Wrenched Bicycles owner Todd Berry on Monday at the bicycle shop. The shop began selling craft beer in June.

Gainesville City Council meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway

Growler bars would be able to sell more beer but less wine to sit-down customers if the Gainesville City Council approves a package of reforms on Tuesday.

Amid the changes to local alcohol regulations are new regulations that allow growler bars — Downtown Drafts on the square and Tap It on Thompson Bridge Road — to bump up beer samples to 32 ounces per day per person while cutting wine sales back to 16 ounces.

It’s part of a package of changes to local alcohol laws that includes some major policy changes for downtown and for local breweries.

At the moment, breweries follow somewhat similar rules to growler bars; both are forced by the state to sell “samples” of beer at limited quantities.

Breweries are due to see a significant unshackling in September, when state law will pare back regulations to allow direct sales at breweries.

Regarding breweries, Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey is proposing changes to local rules that will follow state law and allow Left Nut Brewing Co. to sell directly from its Atlanta Highway brewery.

Not so for growler bars, which are still more closely regulated at the local level than statewide and will remain tied to the sample system.

The new regulations, up for their first vote on Tuesday, would allow growler bars to sell 32 ounces of beer per person per day, up from 24, and 16 ounces of wine per person per day, down from 24.

“We’re trying to not get our wine bumped down,” said Downtown Drafts co-owner Nick Hoecker. “It’s 24 ounces right now, but we really don’t know why they’re trying to bump that down.”

Lackey said on Thursday that the new regulations are a tradeoff.

“Right now it’s just 24 ounces of wine or the malt beverage,” he said. “I think the problem was people were getting 24 ounces of wine, which is a good bit of wine — at least for me it’s a good bit of wine — so we went down on the wine to 16 ounces, but the tradeoff is that the malt beverage went up to 32 (ounces).”

The first reading of the new regulations is set for Tuesday, but two readings are needed to pass the changes. The earliest they could take effect is mid-August.

Hoecker, who has run Downtown Drafts with his wife, Aimee Hoecker, since 2014, is feeling hemmed in by the local regulations, especially as rules are loosened for other businesses.

“We believe that there could be little tweaks here and there to maybe go toward the state regulations,” Nick Hoecker said. “I really thought it would be good try to go along the same lines as the new brewery laws. We’re both serving beer. We don’t have any food.”

Growler bars have to earn 90 percent of their revenue from package sales of beer and wine or they have to dedicate at least 400 square feet of floor space to the display of beer and wine offered for sale.

The same regulations don’t exist for restaurants with bars or for bona fide bars. Aimee Hoecker said the couple has considered making the jump to become a bar, but they would have to change their hours to open at 4 p.m. and completely close on Sundays — a bridge too far, she said.

State and local regulations are creating unusual business opportunities in Gainesville. Because so much emphasis is put on non-alcohol sales making up a majority of the revenue for a business, some stores that aren’t in the alcohol business at all are making the jump into booze.

For example, Wrenched Bicycles on Broad Street. The bicycle retailer, rental and repair shop began selling craft and bottled beer in June, said owner Todd Berry.

Because Berry sells bikes, the vast majority of his store’s revenue comes from non-alcohol sales. State and local regulations look favorably on that fact, and he’s allowed to sell beer by the pint.

“It’s something other states have been doing for a while – other bike shops have been doing it. It’s sort of a growing thing,” Berry said. “It ain’t a bar, so to speak, as it is your customers come in, they’ve got a place to hang out while you’re doing their stuff, and after a ride or whatever if they want to drink a beer, they can come in and hang out for a bit.”

Berry got the idea from The Hub and Pisgah Tavern in North Carolina, and so far selling alcohol has been a boon to Berry’s bike business — especially because it brings in tourists and boosts sales of small-ticket items like T-shirts.

Two first-time customers of Wrenched Bicycles, Clay Kelley and Daniel Walker, came to shop for bikes on Monday and stopped to talk about their hobby at Berry’s bar.

“It’s IPA day. He’s in the market for a bicycle. I ride, so that’s what we’re doing here,” Kelley said. “I think it’s fantastic.”

But while breweries and conventional retailers are seeing lighter local regulations, growler bars are treading water and trading one regulation for another.

“If you start restricting the wine — we have beers that can be the same percentage of alcohol — it almost seems like we’re moving a little (more) backward than forward,” Nick Hoecker said.

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