W.Va. Municipalities Skip County Referendum to Get Earlier Sunday Alcohol Sales
It’s been a little more than three months since the state Legislature’s Regular Session came to a close, but there’s one bill that passed that’s still on a lot of people’s minds. That bill is best known as – the Brunch Bill. It calls on county commissions to decide whether to allow the start of alcohol sales at restaurants, wineries, distilleries, and private clubs on Sundays before 1 p.m.
If a commission votes yes by the end of July, then residents in that county get to vote on the issue in November. But there are some towns and cities in the state that don’t want to wait, and they’re finding ways around the legislation.
...like Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
The Blue Moon restaurant in Shepherdstown is a popular place for locals and tourists to eat, drink, hang out, and sometimes catch live music. On Sundays, brunch begins at 11:00 a.m.
Judy O’Connell and her partner Jim Miller sit at a small, round table in the shade enjoying some wine and beer. They live in Harpers Ferry but frequent Shepherdstown for brunch.
“We come over here as often as we can in the summertime," O'Connell said, "and sometimes it’s on Sunday, and you would not be able to get this. Now, we’re able to enjoy a glass of wine, and him a beer, you know, while we wait on our meal. But I think it’s great; it’s a long time coming.”
At the end of May, Shepherdstown passed a Home Rule ordinance that allows restaurants to serve alcohol on Sunday mornings as early as 10:00 a.m.
“There didn’t seem to be much point in waiting,” said Jim Auxer, Mayor of Shepherdstown, "So we passed the ordinance, and we did it as quickly as possible to get ready for the summer.”
But why did Shepherdstown jump ahead of state legislation, when back in April, the Jefferson County Commission had already voted to put the Brunch Bill on the ballot in November?
- The town wanted to move as quickly as possible to get the provisions in the bill on the books and help boost business.
- And Mayor Auxer says the process for the approval actually began at the end of 2015 – before legislation was even considered at the Capitol this past session.
“And the Home Rule Board in the application asks you to do things that are maybe unique or special," Auxer explained, "so the Town Council, we sat, we had a meeting and talked about things, and we thought that the Brunch Bill, because it’s been on the agenda for the legislature for years, maybe we’d give that a try.”
So in April, the state Department of Commerce’s Home Rule Board approved Shepherdstown’s request for the Brunch Bill. Shepherdstown is currently the only town or city in the state that serves alcohol on Sunday mornings.
Blue Moon manager Kimberly Bowen says since the ordinance passed, she and her colleagues are much busier Sunday mornings and have seen hundreds of dollars in extra revenue. She thinks other places in West Virginia should follow her town’s example.
“The law itself was antiquated and silly; 1:00 on Sunday? You know, whatever, but also, yeah, I mean Charleston, Elkins; all those touristy places would benefit from it greatly I would imagine," Bowen said, "People can wake up and enjoy themselves on vacation. It’s all people want to do anyways. For any tourist town, it’s a great idea, I think. And West Virginia is poor and needs as much money as it can get.”
Other places in the state are now looking at the Brunch Bill by way of Home Rule, including Charleston.
In March, the Kanawha County Commission was one of the first counties to vote yes to putting the Brunch Bill on the ballot in the fall. But after Shepherdstown’s move, the Kanawha County Commission decided to hold off on the county referendum and instead focus on allowing the Charleston City Council to move forward on its own by using Home Rule.
Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy says out of the 13 municipalities in the county, 5 of them have Home Rule. Of those 5, he says only Charleston has expressed interest in allowing sales of alcohol during Sunday brunch hours.
“It’s always been a group in Charleston that needed it and wanted it," he explained, "The Charleston CVB with them, and we certainly support that, but we’ve never heard too much from groups outside the City of Charleston.”
Hardy says if other businesses or groups in Kanawha County come forward between now and the end of July, the Commission would put the referendum back on the November ballot.
But for now – the Commission is leaving it up to Home Rule.
“I don’t know how it would come out on a countywide referendum," Hardy noted, "I don’t pretend to know, because nobody really has stepped forward and said I’ve polled this, or I’m going to be advocating for it in the Sissonville area for example. Those groups have never really stepped forward either way; pro or con. I am very confident that there is support for the Brunch Bill in the City of Charleston.”
The Charleston City Council introduced a bill this week that will see a committee vote on June 29. If it passes that committee, it will go to the full Council for a vote on July 5.
If that happens – and if the state’s Home Rule Board approves Charleston’s request – Sunday morning alcohol sales could begin in Charleston by August.
And Morgantown is also beginning to look to Home Rule on the issue.
Across the state, the deadline looms for County Commissions to put the referendum on the November ballot. But so far, less than ten counties have shown support.