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How Gainesville may change its alcohol ordinance
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Lauren Williams, general manager at Downtown Drafts in Gainesville, pours a beer for a customer at the growler shop Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Gainesville may adjust its alcohol ordinance again, making room for distilleries and possibly allowing some businesses to sell more beer but less wine.

Building on gradual changes to the city’s alcohol ordinance over the past few years, Gainesville is working with city staff, local business owners and citizens to update the ordinance.

City spokeswoman Nikki Perry said the increasing popularity of distilleries has been the driving force behind the city’s decision to evaluate its alcohol ordinance.

“There’s so much interest right now in breweries and distilleries. And our ordinance allowed for wineries and breweries, but it did not have a provision for distilleries,” Perry said.

Plans for Gainesville Distilling Co. fell through in June following issues with permitting and disputes between the business’ partners. However, Perry said the city has received inquiries from other entrepreneurs considering opening a distillery in the city.

A timeline for voting on a new ordinance has not been determined yet.

Another proposed change applies to businesses that sell growlers, or sealed containers that can be filled with up to 64 ounces of beer or wine under the existing ordinance. The city has considered decreasing sample sizes of wine from 24 to 18 ounces while increasing sample sizes of beer from 24 to 36 ounces.

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A glass of wine sits on a table Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, at Downtown Drafts in Gainesville. - photo by Austin Steele

The ordinance now restricts sampling of beer or wine to 24 ounces per person per day. The samples must come in flights with at least four different varieties of beer or wine.

Angela Sheppard, Gainesville’s assistant city manager, said samples can help people decide what growler they might want to buy.

“You go in, you see all these taps on the wall, a lot of interesting names, a lot of interesting breweries, what is it that I want to try. … It can help you decide and narrow it down to what kind of growler do I want to buy,” she said.

One change the city is considering is removing the requirement that samples have to come in sets of four.

Aimee Hoecker, co-owner of Downtown Drafts on the Gainesville square, said reducing the amount of wine Downtown Drafts can sell will not only hurt her business but also will affect the North Georgia wineries who sell to Downtown Drafts.

Hoecker said customers can go to a restaurant and order an unrestricted amount of alcohol, so the reason behind the restrictions on growler shops like Downtown Drafts seems unclear.

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Patrons enjoy drinks at Downtown Drafts on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“Generally, I would say that I am for less restriction and letting adults choose how much they consume,” Hoecker said. “They can go down to any restaurant, say Applebee’s, and drink an unlimited amount of liquor and they don’t have to eat any food.”

Restaurants are required by the city to make at least 50 percent of their sales from food, a mandate Sheppard said is common. The burden then falls to restaurants to make sure they are selling enough food to offset their business from alcohol, she said.

“There’s no cap on what restaurants can do and how much they can serve as far as alcohol goes,” Sheppard said. “Their limitation is in the form of making sure they balance all of their alcohol sales with food sales.”

Perry said people usually go to a restaurant with the intent of eating a meal, whereas customers at growler shops don’t have that same expectation.

Wrenched Bicycles on Broad Street, a bike sales, rental and repair shop, started selling craft beer last year as a way to bring in more customers and get them to spend more time in the shop.

The business’ focus is on bikes rather than beer — owner Todd Berry said only about 2 percent of sales are from alcohol. Wrenched is allowed to sell beer by the pint. The business does not sell wine.

Berry’s shop closes at 6 p.m. during the week and 4 p.m. on weekdays, so late night drinking is not an issue, he said. Overserving has never been a concern, either, he said. However, he thinks it should be up to businesses, and not the government, to make that call.

“If you’re in a restaurant now and you have a person that is over the limit, they cut them off. That’s how it should work. I think the same thing should apply (to other businesses),” Berry said.

Gainesville has made gradual changes to its alcohol ordinance in recent years. In 2015, consuming alcohol outside was permitted, but only at city-sponsored events and only for beer and wine. Then, last year, the city created a downtown district on the square, allowing people to leave a business with one drink per person and walk around the square between noon and midnight.

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Lauren Williams, general manager at Downtown Drafts, pours a beer for a customer at Downtown Drafts on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Perry said downtown events such as First Friday concerts have seen an uptick in attendance now that people can bring their drinks with them. Local businesses have benefitted, too, contributing to downtown development, she said.

Sheppard said adjusting the alcohol ordinance gradually rather than introducing several new changes at once allows the city to evaluate the changes and lets the community get adjusted to the new rules.

“They need to see how it’s going to work, they need to know that they’re still going to be safe,” she said.

Sheppard said the city hopes to balance the needs of businesses with the concerns and feedback from residents in updates to the ordinance.

“We have people in our community that would be fine if there was no alcohol served, and I think we have people in our community that would be fine if there were zero regulations on it. But I think you’ll find that the majority in our community are probably somewhere in the middle,” she said.