Several Richmond Hill restaurants are petitioning the city in an attempt to allow them to sell alcohol by the drink on Sunday.
The petition, which was written on paper bearing Molly McPherson’s letterhead, is requesting city council put the issue on a referendum for city residents to decide.
"We are asking the governing authorities for strict guidelines for the pouring of alcohol so stand-alone bars or package stores are not allowed," the petition said, while also noting residents "would be the ones making a bad business decision by voting no on this referendum. We will have allowed thousands - possibly millions - of tax dollars to escape into neighboring counties."
Molly MacPherson’s owner Daniel Cloutier said the petition is aimed at helping Richmond Hill restaurants because, "people leave here on Sundays and go spend their money in Chatham County."
Also signing the petition were representatives from Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Augie’s, Tequila’s Sunset and Black Angus Steakhouse, which is located where 3J’s Steakhouse used to be.
The petition was reportedly delivered to city officials on Monday. City manager Mike Melton said the issue will be heard at the April 1 city council meeting.
Melton said there have been many inquiries in the past about such an ordinance, but that it was heard before council just one time. Several years ago, land developer Johnny Carnes raised the issue to city council and Melton said a large group of Baptist ministers and representatives from local churches came out in opposition to the ordinance. Carnes chose not to pursue the issue after that meeting.
Cloutier said he is aware of the potential of church opposition but said it should be a business owner’s right to have the same sale opportunities as are available in neighboring counties.
First Baptist Church Associate Pastor Joel Carter said he is opposed to the measure.
I’m opposed to it any day of the week," he said, noting it will be up to head Pastor Keith Joseph whether the church will be making a stand at the upcoming council meeting.
New Beginnings Church Pastor Steve Lane had a slightly different view.
"I think is alcohol is the biggest detriment to society and the lead contributor to many crimes and tragedies," he said. "On the other hand, it is my opinion that to take a drink is not necessarily a sin. I do think the best policy is not to do it because of what it can lead to, but the reality of the situation is that it does occur. As far as drinking being banned in Richmond Hill on Sunday, I really don’t see the difference between drinking on Sunday, Saturday or Wednesday. I also think it is a double standard for those who are against this issue while, at the same time, patronizing restaurants in Chatham County that do serve liquor."
"A lot of out-of-towners walk in here on Sunday and walk right out when we tell them they can’t purchase alcohol with their meal," Tequila’s Sunset co-owner Patty Ortiz said. "Some of them get down right offended. It’s just funny how they can just go down the road to Savannah and be served. It just so happens that margaritas go well with fajitas. We wouldn’t be doing anything wrong by changing this ordinance."
"We’re just trying to make a living here," Augie’s owner John Joseph said. "It’s kind of hard to make it on just six days of sales."
He said Augie’s, like other restaurants in town, is closed on Sunday due to low sales they say are caused by the ban.
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s owner Doug Goolsby, who markets his restaurant as a "family sports pub", said the Sunday law affects him in another way.
"I need the Sunday beer sales in order to be successful for football season," he said. "Other sporting events, such as NASCAR, are also big on Sundays and I’m tired of watching groups of people walk out of here when we tell them they can’t buy beer. I think we need to keep business dollars in Richmond Hill and I think residents would agree if this is put to a vote."
"We do half of what the average Beefs does on a normal Sunday," Goolsby added. "On a NASCAR or NFL Sunday, we do about a third."
Cloutier said one restaurant owner didn't sign the petition, saying the Sunday rule would bring big chain competitors. Cloutier said that would be a positive because travellers drawn off the highway might end up going to his and other privately-owned restaurants.
"I don’t think Sunday sales have kept businesses out of Richmond Hill," said city councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Floyd Hilliard. "I think high land prices have deterred them more. A change in the Sunday rule might just get them to take a second look at us though. As far as how this ordinance is currently effecting our revenue, I’ve heard from many people that work in local restaurants that say potential customers have sat down to dine only to leave and go across the river when told they couldn’t purchase alcohol. It definitely has a negative effect on local economy."
Hilliard said restaurant owners have the right to petition the city and the issue should be voted upon to get a clear picture of public opinion.
"My job as a city council member is to help make laws and ordinances geared toward making sure peoples rights are preserved," Hilliard continued. "I know this ordinance is going to receive some criticism from churches, but it’s not my call to question whether someone is doing the right thing as far as drinking on Sunday is concerned. It is my job to say if someone should have the right to do it. I don’t think government should make that decision; it should be up to the people. To vote on this, you’re not saying people should not drink on Sunday. Rather, you’re saying whether or not it is their right to do it."