Columbia bar, restaurant owners turn out to oppose restricting drink deals

Restaurant and bar owners showed up Monday at Columbia City Hall to speak out against a proposed ordinance that would restrict late-night drink specials in the city.

The business owners say the ordinance won’t reduce excessive drinking but will hurt their business.

Steve Hollis, Columbia’s human services manager, ran the meeting and said the city’s Substance Abuse Advisory Commission called for an ordinance after submitting a report in November 2017. The goal of the ordinance was to minimize excessive drinking occurring in the city, he said.

Earlier this year, a draft ordinance was submitted that proposed prohibiting drink specials between 9 p.m. and 1:30 a.m., “bottomless” drinks at fixed prices and deals for particular groups, like ladies nights.

No business owners were consulted in the creation of the ordinance, Hollis said.

Matt McGuien of On the Rocks, a downtown bar, said that he opposed the ordinance and wished business owners were able to provide input in developing an ordinance.

“What floors me is that zero business owners were called in consultation with this,” McGuien said. “What floors me is that no economic data has been conducted for downtown Columbia.”

Bob Hohenstein of the Downtown Community Improvement District said that his group has never endorsed or agreed to drink specials being banned, even though their hospitality report was cited in the presentation. Hohenstein also said the CID was not contacted in creating the ordinance.

“My feeling is that it is absolutely unacceptable, and I would strongly encourage you to get the bar owners, the restaurant owners and the downtown CID involved as (the council) goes through the future processes,” Hohenstein said.

Monday’s meeting included an overview of the proposed regulations, presentation of alcohol-related health and safety data and time for public questions and comment.

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control, Hollis said that Columbia is the only metro area in Missouri where more than one in five adults drink excessively. He also presented data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol that 36% of driving deaths in Boone County from 2012 to 2016 involved alcohol, compared to 30% statewide.

Despite their opposition to the proposed ordinance, business owners expressed a desire to limit excessive drinking.

Lydia Melton, owner of Gunter Hans, a downtown pub and cafe, said she has a young workforce with high turnover. She believes receiving help from the city in training employees how to deal with customers would help prevent excessive drinking.

“If we’re worried about overconsumption, a huge issue is that by the time I get my staff trained on this, they’re gone,” Melton said. “We need more help with this, and the SMART training is not it. It’s a great first step — truly, it is. It’s better than nothing, but I have staff go through it … and they retain maybe 50% of it.”

The State of Missouri Alcohol Responsibility Training — or SMART — program, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Transportation, aims to educate workers on how to spot fake IDs, detect warning signs of drunkenness and reduce liability risks.

Melton said the training consists primarily of reading that has been hard for her servers to understand. She suggested having more interactive demonstrations to train staff in how to maintain safe environments.

“I think (the employees) need as much help as we can give them, so that’s my plea, my beg of you, is give us this,” Melton said. “I would rather prevent it at the front line than try to make it happen economically and have this whole thing misfire.”

Jesse Garcia, owner of downtown bars The Penguin Piano Bar & Nightclub and The Social Room, invited opponents of the measure to gather outside City Hall before Monday’s meeting. He also started an online petition that had more than 1,300 virtual signatures as of Tuesday morning. He accused the city attempting to make “laws we don’t need for problems we don’t have.”

Garcia called for more police officers in the downtown area to help manage safety issues that come from excessive drinking.

He also pointed to an increase in students living downtown and questioned whether bars were necessarily involved in their alcohol consumption.

“You’re insinuating that all the bars are responsible for the over-alcohol consumption when in fact you have no data to support if they got drunk at the bar, or if they got drunk at their home and then went to the bar if they’re just spilling out into downtown when they’re drunk,” Garcia said.

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