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Sylva launches social district at Greening Up The Mountains

Stickers on the ground mark the perimeter of the social district in downtown Sylva.
Lilly Knoepp/BPR News
Stickers on the ground mark the perimeter of the social district in downtown Sylva.

A social district is launching this weekend at the Greening Up The Mountain’s festival in Sylva.

Stickers reading “Social District of Sylva North Carolina” mark the perimeter of downtown where folks 21 and older will be allowed to drink alcohol in designated public areas starting Saturday. The stickers include a QR code linking to the town website outlining the rules.

Bernadette Peters is Main Street Economic
Development Director for the Town of Sylva and owner of City Lights Café. BPR spoke Peters who has been championing the effort at the café.

“We're doing a six-month test period, and we're going to look at baseline statistics on calls from the local police department and see if those have increased over time due to the social district,” said Peters. “And the commissioners are dedicated to making a change if there's anything that goes awry safety wise or otherwise in the town.”

Click the map to expand.
Courtesy of Town of Sylva
The proposed social district map is available on the town website.

The North Carolina General Assembly passed a billmaking social districts possible late last year.

The social district idea came up in town board meetings in February.

“We thought that would be good for Sylva because partly because of the pandemic and allowing people to walk around outside and spend time outdoors, but also economically as we were all hit very hard by COVID,” said Peters.

At first many of the local bar and business owners were ardently against the move.

Jacque Laura spoke as a representative of The Cut Cocktail Lounge, Snake Song Retail Shop and Guadalupe Café at the February meeting.

“I’m very concerned about this as your steward who has been protecting you from drinking spilling out onto the streets – per my ABC license - for almost seven years now. I am very concerned,” said Laura.

Laura and others questioned safety, health, lack of bathrooms and liability.

Peters says that Alcohol Law Enforcement officials answered liability questions during the stakeholders meetings.

“They assured us that their process for investigating any situation that happens is going to be the same, whether they find a, a social district cup with a sticker on it, or that person's wearing a sweatshirt branded with a brewery or have a bumper sticker on their car, they still have to follow protocol,” said Peters.

Courtesy of Bernadette Peters
The souvenir cups will be used for alcohol sales in the social district.

Despite the opposition, the social district resolution was passed by town council. Then a taskforce worked on the proposal with alcohol permit holders and other stakeholders. Peters says that bought a few key changes: the hours on Sundays now start at 1pm after downtown church services have ended, and the purchase of a $10 souvenir cup for all alcohol. There are some exceptions for the use of other cups during festivals.

Seven bars opted into the program along with five retailers: Nantahala Brewery, Balsam Falls Brewery, Lazy Hiker Brewing and Innovation Brewing, White Moon Coffee Shop/Dark Moon, Paper Mill Lounge, City Lights Café, Black Balsam Outdoors, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce (porch only), Jackson County Farmer’s Market, Mountain Flora Herbal Apothecary and Dispensary, Sodquet and Southern & Sunkissed Boutique.

Peters says other retailers on Main Street have policies not allowing food and beverage inside.

The town board updated the hours for the district to Friday and Saturday from 8am - 9pm, and Sundays 1pm-9pm at Thursday night’s meeting.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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