The time is now for Richmond Hill residents to decide whether they want to be served alcohol at city restaurants on Sunday. The official election date for the referendum is Sept. 16, but early voting can be done through Friday.
But so far, it doesn’t look as if many people care enough to have their say on the matter.
Elections Superintendent Sam Davis said early voting got off to an extremely slow start, with only 12 votes in as of Tuesday morning. Polling officials reported 10 more voters on Tuesday afternoon.
"Perhaps everyone is waiting until Tuesday (election day)," Davis said.
The referendum was brought to the table in March by six local restaurant owners – representing Molly MacPherson’s, Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Augie’s, Glazer’s Pub, Tequila’s Sunset and Black Angus Steakhouse.
The group presented a signed petition to city officials in March. In April, city council unanimously approved the item to become a referendum for the people to decide whether or not they would like Sunday alcohol sales at local restaurants.
The petition, which was written on paper bearing Molly McPherson’s letterhead, says in part: "We are asking the governing authorities for strict guidelines for the pouring of alcohol so stand-alone bars or package stores are not allowed," 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."Pastor Carlton Cooper of Bethel Baptist Church was one of several who spoke in opposition to the referendum during the April council meeting. Cooper said he hopes people will actually take time to vote on the issue in order to get an accurate survey from the community. He said he became concerned about this upon reading that only one percent of registered Bryan voters participated in the recent Democratic run-off.
Beef ‘O’ Brady’s owner Doug Goolsby is also concerned about low turnout. Goolsby said he has discussed the Sunday alcohol issue with many of his customers and "95 percent of them said they would vote yes – it’s just a matter if they actually make it to the polls or not."
NFL football season started this week. Goolsby said the Sunday alcohol law has been weighing on his mind since his sports pub could do much more business on Sunday, a big day for televised football, if alcohol could be served.
"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," Goolsby said. "I think we need to keep business dollars in Richmond Hill. We do half of what the average Beef’s does on a normal Sunday," Goolsby added. "On a NASCAR or NFL Sunday, we do about a third."
Molly MacPherson’s joint owner Jennifer Brown said everyone she has spoken to supports Sunday sales, but a lot of her customers are outside the city limits and can't vote.
Molly’s, Glazer’s and Augie’s are currently closed on Sundays due to low sales they say are caused by the ban.
Augie’s joint owner Kim Josefik this referendum is over due and would be a step toward changing with the times. She also said it would invite major chain restaurants to come to Richmond Hill if this law were updated.
Restaurant owners, via signs and their billboards, are urging voters to pass this referendum.
Meanwhile, Pastor Cooper and his constituents are urging residents to vote against it.
"Alcohol is already served six days a week," Cooper said. "Shouldn’t there be one day where we don’t have to deal with this when we go out for dinner. Especially when we’re trying to teach our kids not to drink."
Cooper said Sunday should be a day to focus on religion, and it is disrespectful to God to bring alcohol more into focus on this day.
"I’m also concerned that this will be the crack in the door for having no alcohol restrictions at all on Sunday," Cooper added. "Restaurants are on the ballot today, but it could eventually lead to stores having alcohol sales as well."
Cooper said he saw where some bloggers had endorsed abolishing all such alcohol restrictions, "and that may happen if someone doesn’t draw a line somewhere."
To vote, you must be a registered voter residing within the city limits of Richmond Hill. Polls are open this week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Wetlands Center, at the back of J.F. Gregory Park. On Sept. 16, voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the same location.