Decatur continues to allow open container alcohol sales after debate over safety

Angie, an 11-year-old husky/beagle mix, hangs out with a beer-drinking friend on Food Truck Friday during the Duluth’s weekly summertime bash, Fridays-N-Duluth. (Casey Sykes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
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Angie, an 11-year-old husky/beagle mix, hangs out with a beer-drinking friend on Food Truck Friday during the Duluth’s weekly summertime bash, Fridays-N-Duluth. (Casey Sykes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Decatur city leaders extended open container alcohol sales through mid-April following a discussion over whether the temporary law’s benefits to local restaurants and bars outweigh the potential crowding risks.

Several restaurant owners said the ordinance, initially passed in October, has helped business during the COVID-19 pandemic. It allows restaurants to sell alcohol for off-premise consumption during select hours on Fridays and Saturdays in the city’s business districts.

But a few critics, including some healthcare workers, claimed an open container law promotes social gatherings at a time when coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths are skyrocketing in Georgia. Decatur commissioner Lesa Mayer said those who wanted to extend the law vastly outweighed those opposed to it.

“I had seen a myriad of different kinds of responses to our open container (ordinance), some very positive and some very negative,” Mayer said during Tuesday’s city commission meeting. “What I have found is when we asked the public for feedback, the response was overwhelming pro-extension of the open container ordinance.”

ExploreDecatur to allow open container alcohol sales to help struggling restaurants

The ordinance expired Jan. 3, but City Council temporarily extended it through MLK Day to give the public more time to provide feedback. Mayer said those who opposed the alcohol ordinance’s extension said the city isn’t taking every means necessary to protect the community. During the same meeting, the city extended its public mask mandate through mid-February — a monthly ritual in Decatur since last July.

While she voted with her colleagues to extend the ordinance, she said it might be beneficial to extend the open container hours or include more weekdays in the future. The extension expires April 18.

“If we spread it out a little bit more over time, we would probably avoid the perceived congestion that individuals are concerned about in our downtown areas and other districts,” she said.

During the meeting, three business owners spoke in favor of extending their ability to sell alcohol by the glass. Stephanie Castellucci, the owner of Iberian Pig’s downtown Decatur location, said it’s been a much-needed source of revenue.

“The additional sales really helped us throughout the pandemic in various ways,” she said. “Our guests really love it. Everyone has been really respectful of it and followed the rules and the regulations around it.”

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Michael Gallagher, a co-owner of Brick Store Pub, added that furloughs and layoffs are a reality for many small business owners, especially those in the hospitality sector. He said open container alcohol sales are similar to expanding outdoor dining and carryout services, since they reduce indoor dining demand.

“It encourages people to be outside, to spend some money and to support local businesses,” he said. “Sure, you have to take your mask off to abide, but I think outdoors has proven to be the safest way.”

Restaurants have to pour alcohol into approved plastic cups to sell to patrons, who also get a wristband to wear while drinking outdoors. Open container alcohol sales are allowed Friday nights from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturday nights from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Five business districts are included in the ordinance:

• Decatur Downtown Business District

• East College Business District

• Oakhurst Business District

• Old Depot District

• West Ponce Business District

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