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Officials: Early Sunday alcohol service could help businesses, tourism

By EVAN BEVINS

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — Supporters of allowing earlier alcohol sales on Sunday say the change would level the playing field for local eateries with their counterparts across state lines.

“I think we need to be competitive, market-wise, to other states,” said John Muller, food and beverage director at the Blennerhassett Hotel in downtown Parkersburg.

Legislation commonly referred to as the Brunch Bill passed earlier this year giving counties the option to put the question of 10 a.m. Sunday alcohol sales on the ballot. Fifteen home rule cities have applied for and been granted the ability to implement legislation allowing for such service.

The city councils in Parkersburg and Vienna will hold public hearings this week to allow citizens to weigh in on the change, which would be applied for through the cities’ participation in West Virginia’s home rule program.

“We thought the timing would be right, and we’ll go to the home rule board together (with Parkersburg) if that’s what the residents want,” Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp said.

Each council must approve an ordinance on two readings to submit a request to the board to amend its home rule plan. If the board grants permission, each council would have to pass another ordinance to actually implement the change, without putting it on the ballot.

Parkersburg Mayor Jimmy Colombo said recently that he was fine with the move, even though he didn’t expect it to result in a lot of additional sales for restaurants like his family’s Jimmie Colombo’s Italian Restaurant.

But North End Tavern owner Joe Roedersheimer said it’s about more than selling alcohol: It’s about keeping customers on this side of the Ohio River.

The restaurant known as much for its specially brewed beer as its food tried opening for brunch a few years ago at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Roedersheimer said, even though alcoholic beverages could not be served until 1 p.m.

“We found out that when we let them in the door, a lot of them … want a glass of wine or beer with their meal,” he said.

The restaurant complied with the law and did not sell those products, but people who wanted a beer or some wine for brunch knew they couldn’t get it at the NET.

“By 1 o’clock, you could have lost I don’t know how many customers,”Roedersheimer said.

If the NET opened earlier and more people came for brunch, they wouldn’t just be buying alcohol, he said.

“Any time you can keep business open in this day and age, it’s a good thing,”Roedersheimer said. “It does keep people employed for three more hours a week.”

Four servers working an extra three hours starts to add up over the course of a year, and some of that money they make would be spent in the community, not to mention the sales tax on the purchases, he said.

Muller said he favors the change. Although demand for alcohol is not great during the hours in question, the Blennerhassett would consider its options if the measure is enacted.

“We may look at our Sunday brunch and offer some mimosas and stuff like that,” Muller said.

The Parkersburg Brewing Company is not currently open on Sundays, but enacting the earlier service time would make that more attractive, co-owner Dan Curtis said.

“As seen in other areas of the state such as Lewisburg, the brunch bill has proven beneficial,” he said in an emailed statement. “It has created jobs, improved wages and increased tax revenue. Weekends are an important part of West Virginia tourism, and we believe the Brunch Bill will enhance weekend tourism and the Parkersburg tourism experience.”

The move has the backing of the Greater Parkersburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“We view it as a simple business friendly bill,” CVB executive director Mark Lewis said. “We’re offering our out-of-town visitors the same amenities most of them can find in their hometown or in our competing … tourism destinations.”

Lewis said the move has not been controversial in any of the other cities where it’s been proposed.

According to the application Parkersburg would submit if the ordinance is approved by council, 10 a.m. Sunday sales have been allowed in the home-rule cities of Beckley, Bluefield, Bridgeport, Charleston, Charlestown, Clarksburg, Lewisburg, Martinsburg, Morgantown, Nitro, Oak Hill, Ranson, Shepherdstown, South Charleston and Wheeling.

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