Mountain Towns Split On How They Will 'Do Brunch'

Oct 26, 2017

North Carolina’s so-called ‘Brunch Bill’ gives local governments the option of allowing alcohol sales as early as 10 a.m. on Sundays, instead of the usual time of noon.  Hendersonville and Asheville quickly adopted the law. But to the west, there’s still plenty of debate about the bill in some communities. BPR’s Davin Eldridge reports on the contentious new bill and it's status within the region--examining which side of the issue each town is now on--and how a period of only two hours each week can differ so much between them as a result.

The town of Franklin is among the most recent in the mountains to okay the powers granted by the Brunch Bill, and there was little in the way of fanfare or debate when it did. 

In a unanimous vote, the otherwise conservative town of just 4,000 joined more than sixty other municipalities throughout the state who've expanded Sunday alcohol sales. Twenty are located in Western North Carolina—including the neighboring towns of Sylva, Highlands, Canton and Waynesville. But it hasn’t been that easy for other communities nearby.

At their last town board meeting, Bryson City officials voted down their own Brunch Bill measure before a packed town hall. According to Mayor Tom Sutton, many of the locals there came to voice their opposition.

“A motion was made in no second. Three of the aldermen felt that was appropriate for our community. We had about fifty-fifty merchants and restaurant owners who were for it, and a fairly substantial group of church-goers who were against it.”

It wasn’t until 1990 that Bryson City finally repealed its own prohibition-era laws, by permitting the sale of alcohol in city limits. So the public’s response wasn’t exactly a surprise to Sutton, who was in favor of adopting a Brunch Bill.

“I think it would have been a good economic opportunity—it’s only an extra two hours. I think it would have made life easier on our servers and restaurant owners. But if that’s the will of the board, I’m happy with the decision.”

This kind of public opposition isn’t been limited to Bryson City. Towns like Maggie Valley, for instance, are currently in limbo, after many locals came out against the measures there as well. For the first time in the mountains, this kind of contention is occurring at the county level.

Once Jackson County commissioners put a Brunch Bill vote onto the agenda for their last meeting, they were greeted by dozens of residents in opposition. According to Chairman Brian McMahan, it all began when the Cashiers Chamber of Commerce requested they adopt it.

“They feel like it would give the restaurants an opportunity to cater to a clientele that they can’t cater to now.”

Fellow Commissioner Boyce Dietz admits that adopting the Brunch Bill would provide towns like Cashiers an economic opportunity, especially because it’s a small and affluent resort town with an almost entirely service-based economy. Nevertheless he remains skeptical, and is currently opposed to the measure.

“I just can’t believe someone comes from South Alabama or something to look at the colors and not come to Jackson County because there’s places you can’t have a drink at 11 o’clock on Sunday.”

Like Dietz, McMahan is opposed to the ordinance. He looks at it as a public safety issue, and cites statistics by the State Highway Patrol:

“I intend to vote no on the expansion of the time. I feel like one of the reasons is, the main reason to me, that Jackson County is one of the leading counties among alcohol-related crashes. One-in-four fatalities is alcohol related, when it comes to automobile accidents.”

He says according to the data, out of all one hundred North Carolina counties, Jackson County ranks eighth in the state for binge drinking or excessive drinking. 

Nearly four months since it became law, the Brunch Bill remains a controversial issue throughout the region. With many communities still deliberating its adoption, it’s still uncertain how deep into the mountains the bill can ultimately go. But what is certain, is how big of a difference a mere two hours can make, depending on where you are.