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Public, businesses react to new downtown drinking ordinance
A patron holds beer in 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Dozens of workers hustled to keep up with orders from Atlas Pizza customers at tables inside and on the curbside Friday, the downtown square in Gainesville bustling on a busy evening.

Jesse Mariah Williams of Atlanta entertained with a sultry selection of bluesy tunes that caught the attention of browsers and passersby at the Farmer’s Market.

However, only a sprinkling of pedestrians could be seen outside drinking alcoholic beverages in public during happy hours.

Gainesville elected officials paved the way for public consumption after they approved earlier this week liberal changes to the city’s alcohol ordinance.

Businesses and patrons interviewed by The Times on Friday mostly took a wait-and-see attitude about whether the changes would bring benefits or problems.

As part of the reform, city officials established a broad “downtown dining district” where patrons can take their alcoholic beverages outside and mingle. To do so, the drinks must be in clear plastic cups not larger than 16 ounces. Public drinking is allowed from noon to midnight in the downtown district bordered by Jesse Jewell Parkway, E.E. Butler Parkway, West Academy Street and Academy Street.

Eric Baehr, a manager at Recess Southern Gastro Pub, said he thinks the progressive change will be good for business.

“Anything that brings a little bit of Savannah to Gainesville is good,” Baehr said.

Chip Hayes and his wife, Deb, of Flowery Branch stopped at Downtown Drafts after visiting the Farmer’s Market. Hayes said that during festivals when there are food vendors outside, allowing  people to bring their drinks out makes sense. He thinks that will be good for business in the long run, adding it may take some people a little time to get used to the change.

“Anytime you have change you’re going to have opinions on different sides,” Hayes said.

Atlas Pizza manager Naomi Gnome took a moment from the hectic Friday crowd to offer her opinion.

“It’s progress for Gainesville,” she said. “It’s going to make it a little more relaxing here. I love the square and I really want to see it grow.”

At a booth promoting Mule Camp Tavern at the Farmer’s Market, manager Mike Mills and employee Curston Garfield had the grill going. Mills said he spotted a few carrying their drinks in the clear cups.

“I think it’s going to create a big patio area for everybody to enjoy,” Mills said.

Mills said that while it likely will be good for business, his concern is that some people may get in their cars, fill their clear cups with their own booze and start walking around.

Selling tomatoes, vegetables and farm-raised pork products from his Maysville farm, Lamar Presley said he’s not a fan of people drinking in public.

“If you’re going to drink, stay inside the bar,” he said.

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