Officials from cities and counties across Georgia have cleared the way to let residents decide whether they want to have a bloody mary with their Sunday morning brunch.
Georgians in counties such as DeKalb and Chatham and cities ranging from Atlanta to Flowery Branch will vote in November whether to allow alcohol sales at restaurants beginning at 11 a.m. Sundays instead of 12:30 p.m.
Local governments had until Wednesday to place the question on the ballot in time for November's election, state elections officials said. Nearly 50 cities and counties have approved ordinances putting the question before voters, according to the Georgia Restaurant Association.
Mike Donlan, a bartender at the Glenwood in East Atlanta, said he’s seen customers come in on football Sundays and camp out at a table waiting for the clock to strike 12:30 p.m.
“It absolutely couldn’t hurt sales,” he said of making the change. “People definitely come here to drink. And I feel like other places that really open earlier for soccer games will benefit.”
The Glenwood, which offers a Sunday brunch menu, opens daily at 11 a.m.
Jaylen Cameron, a Covington resident who had lunch recently at the Glenwood, said he’s not sure he’d personally grab a drink that early in the day, but he would support the change. Covington officials have not yet passed a referendum to extend hours in the city.
“If you’re drinking that early, you might be an alcoholic,” he said. “But if you want to buy alcohol that early, there shouldn’t be a barrier.”
Opponents to the time change, many of whom also fought against allowing any Sunday liquor sales, have said they didn’t believe alcohol should be sold while people are in church.
The Georgia General Assembly in 2011 approved Sunday retail sales of alcohol beginning at 12:30 p.m. with the understanding that they would not try to push for earlier hours, said Mike Griffin, a pastor who lobbies for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
“This is a problem going on in our state where you keep increasing the availability and access to alcohol — it never seems to be enough,” Griffin said. “They’re not going to be satisfied until it’s sold 24/7 at every lemonade stand.”
State Sen. Renee Unterman, who sponsored the legislation that allows local residents to vote yes or no on the time change, said allowing earlier sales would put Georgia on par with other states that are tourist destinations.
The legislation, known as the “brunch bill,” allows local residents to decide whether restaurants and wineries can sell alcohol beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday. Retail establishments still will have to wait until 12:30 to begin sales.
“Part of Georgia growing up and being an international state is that we’re recruiting all over the world for companies to come to Georgia,” the Buford Republican said. “But yet our blue laws were so archaic.”
Unterman said allowing sales to begin at restaurants at 11 a.m. on Sundays would lead to an additional $100 million in revenue for Georgia’s businesses and $11 million more in state and local tax revenue.
Unterman's home county, Gwinnett, and multiple cities in the county are planning to hold votes on the issue, although some municipalities are holding off until 2019.
Woodstock in Cherokee County was the first local government to approve placing the question before its residents — even before Gov. Nathan Deal signed the bill into law in May.
Woodstock Mayor Donnie Henriques said he hoped Deal would sign the bill quickly after it was approved in early March so it could have appeared on the May 22 primary ballot.
Henriques said restaurant owners in the city’s revitalized downtown were clamoring for a chance to expand their Sunday sales.
“They all tell me they do a really bang-up brunch business,” he said. “They felt this would enhance that. So we took their words to heart and we are waiting for the outcome of the vote in November.”
‘Brunch bill’ voting
Here are some of the local governments that are holding referendums on whether to allow Sunday sales of alcohol to begin at restaurants at 11 a.m.:
The referendum will read:
“Shall the governing authority of (name of municipality or county) be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.?”
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Credit: Henri Hollis / Henri.Hollis@ajc.com