Beer hours challenged at City Hall

Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Leonard Malone, left, owner of the Outer Limits, speaks to the City Council with Phyllis Conger, center, and her husband, Willie, right, owners of Soul Train.

Owners of two Lewisburg night spots want the city to change a law that requires restaurants that serve beer to be open six days a week and serve two meals per day.

"I'm not mad or angry," said Leonard Malone who owns The Outer Edge at 121 Legion Ave., "but I feel like I have the right to be open and to be closed when I want to."

Willie and Phyllis Conger, co-owners of Soul Train at First Avenue North and Verona Avenue, agree for similar reasons.

"They asked us to stay open six days a week, but Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, nobody comes in," Willie Conger said. "I had to cut back to my best days just to stay open."

City Manager Eddie Fuller says Lewisburg's Beer Board is meeting at 4 this afternoon to consider those and other issues discussed at City Hall last Tuesday night during the City Council's public comment period and on Thursday afternoon with City Attorney Bill Haywood, the Congers and Malone.

It's possible that today the Beer Board could have a recommendation on how the law might be changed and that recommendation might be presented to the Council for its next regular monthly meeting which is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Nov. 13, two days after Veterans Day, Fuller said.

"We don't want to cause somebody to shut down," Fuller said Friday. "But they've been out of compliance for ... several months. We are giving them leeway to have an appeal. It's not that big an issue, but it needs to be resolved."

The intent of the beer ordinance in question was "focused on restaurants," the city manager said. City Police provided the Beer Board with documentation that Soul Train and Outer Edge were out of compliance. In response, the board sent a letter to the businesses saying they had until Nov. 1 to comply.

Malone visited City Hall a couple of times before the Council meeting last week, Fuller said. Those discussions and requests from the Congers led to an idea on how the law might be changed.

An existing business without a permit to serve beer -- one which might have a permit to sell packaged beer for carry out, could qualify for a special permit, according to Fuller's explanation of the current code. The law on special permits for beer service and "on premises consumption" might be modified, Fuller said.

The exception might be for establishments that have been in business for three to five years, Fuller said.

The situation between the city and the restaurants includes some history and additional business circumstances.

"It may be ironic," the city manager said , noting that the two businesses were the subject of another special consideration.

Previously, businesses with permits to serve beer had to close at midnight, but several years ago an appeal was made to City Hall for a change. Factory workers who got off work late at night had no place to go where they could buy a meal.

The city attorney acknowledged the fact that the Kroger grocery is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, as are some convenience stores where beer is also sold. However, the sale of beer at those businesses is curtailed after midnight at those businesses.

Given that and the request from local businessmen who wanted to serve customers, the City Council amended its ordinance on closing times. Soul Train and the Friday and Saturday night restaurant best known as Leonard's Outer Edge were allowed to stay open later. The just couldn't serve beer in the morning.

Conger and Malone have other jobs and they've said that if they are forced to stay open six days a week, and be ready to serve from two different menus on each of those days, then they'll have to close their businesses.

Leonard's Outer Edge serves dinner on Friday night when the evening's entertainment s karaoke. On Saturday nights, there's a live band. Malone's restaurant isn't open any other day of the week.

"I do very well with what I do, but if I'm forced to be open six days a week," Malone said, "I'd probably have to close the business.

"I've got a restaurant that scores in the 90s (with the Health Department's inspections) all the time and I'm proud of it," he said. "My wife helps out and works at CosmoLab. I'm in the construction business. My son and I own a home improvement business."

The restaurant has been open six years.

Willie Conger has "got about 400 head of beef cattle," he said, explaining that his wife wanted a small business in town. "She likes to cook and ... we got a heck of a business."

It includes a 27-foot long mobile kitchen that was part of the Goats, Music and More Festival.

"Franchises are the only ones who can make it here," Conger said. "The only way I'm surviving is by owning the property."

Utilities have increased his costs and since his wife has suffered illness, she's not been available to cook, so labor costs went up at Soul Train, he said.

When the restaurant was open on the required days, sometime there might be only one or two people to come in and buy a sandwich, he said.

Phyllis Conger complains that the city ordnance creates an unfair advantage for businesses beyond the city line. She points to Big Momma's on the New Columbia Highway. Although she may recognizes that the customers are different, she points out that the cost of sending a sheriff's deputy there is greater than sending a policeman to Soul Train because the country music night spot is further out of town.

Soul Train was the location of a shooting earlier this year and while the management hasn't been implicated in what might appear to be a family dispute, and police have responded to situations at Outer Edge, so Fuller has noted that "another way of looking at it" when assessing the situation.

"The less they're open, the less trouble we'll have," he said. "That's just another way of looking at it."

The city manager frequently finds his job puts him in the middle of situations that require an understanding of various points of view and he has said that the lack of compliance with the ordinance "is not a big issue, but it needs to be resolved."