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A proposed bill would allow open containers in downtown areas, Wilmington businesses support the move

Updated: May. 10, 2021 at 1:55 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Taking a drink outside of a bar or restaurant’s property in North Carolina — for the most part — is not allowed; however, a new bill that is making its way through the state House of Representatives right now could change that.

House Bill 781 is actually titled Bring Business Back to Downtown — and that’s what business owners and downtown advocates say it would do.

The proposal would allow interested cities and counties to create something called a ‘social district’ — an area that people would be permitted to openly consume alcohol outside a business. Those who choose to drink outdoors would still be required to purchase their drinks from an ABC permitted business, not simply bring their own booze downtown.

The bill is also aimed at increasing social distancing — regulations that have caused a significant drop in business for many restaurants and bars.

Justin Smith, the owner of The Husk, is excited at the potential of such a bill passing.

“I think people are looking for opportunities to feel a little more freedom — that certainly, right now more than ever, rings true. I can’t imagine how it wouldn’t benefit downtown and help all of us who spent so much time and effort over the years trying to build it up,” he said.

Smith is not alone, Terry Espy, President of Wilmington’s Downtown Business Alliance said that with the successful implementation of Downtown Alive last year, Wilmington visitors and residents showed they could handle something like what is being proposed.

“Other cities have done this successfully — San Antonio, Tampa, Florida. It’s time,” she said.

The bill right now has been passed by the House, both second and third readings of the bill, and a message on the bill have been sent to the senate. In the House, the bill received largely bipartisan support with 110 votes in favor of it, and just seven against — all seven ‘no’ votes came from Republican representatives.

The bill would not be mandatory for cities to enact; instead, if local governments decide that it is the best option for their municipality, they could vote to enact it. The social district would also be within a set geographic area; it would not allow people to openly consume alcoholic beverages anywhere in the city limits, and although no district exists yet, it would likely be confined to the downtown area and Riverwalk.

The City of Wilmington has not yet weighed in on the bill, but Holly Childs, President of Wilmington Downtown Inc., said she too supports the bill and hopes the city would make it a reality.

“I think a lot of businesses are struggling because they don’t have enough room inside to properly social distance within the confines of their own leased space so this really gives them a lot more space, a lot more real estate to play with to bring people into their businesses,” Childs said.

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