Beer dispute spills over to window signs

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

As Lewisburg's City Council is to consider changing the law on when restaurants must be open if they sell beer, another aspect of that law is challenged by one of the restaurant owners ensnared by the law on hours.

"If you enforce one, you ought to enforce all of the laws," said Leonard Malone, the proprietor of Leonard's Outer Edge, a steak and burger restaurant on Legion Avenue that offers beer, food and entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights only.

Malone and the proprietors of Soul Train on Verona and First avenues had been cited by Lewisburg's Beer Board for failing to meet the standards of the beer ordinance. It says that restaurants with permits to sell beer with means must be open six days a week and serve two meals per day. Both restaurants cater to weekend crowds.

But the ordinance also says it's illegal to display signs advertising beer when those signs, and particularly neon signs, are plainly visible by someone outside the restaurant.

Malone said he was unaware of any enforcement action about the beer signs' restriction while he and the Soul Train owners found it difficult to stay open when few customers come for a meal and a beer.

He raised the point during a Beer Board meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Thursday, a quick drive around Lewisburg revealed there are other restaurants that display beer signs in their windows and City Manager Eddie Fuller confirmed some of what Malone was saying.

"That's a violation," Fuller said while driving past a restaurant with neon signs naming brands of beer.

"We'll probably have to issue a letter," Fuller said of one step toward enforcement of the ordinance

It's what got Malone's attention. Such letters typically gibe a date when compliance is to be achieved. After that, the business would be seen as in violation.

"We'll have to have somebody check all the establishments," the city manager said. "The police and the Beer Board have the right to inspect..."

The beer ordinance that's the subject of a proposed amendment was probably enacted for what might be described as legitimate restaurants since it called for operations six days a week, if the proprietor was to receive a permit to serve beer with meals.

"At one time we had an ordinance that said they had to be shut downat 12 midnight," Fuller said.

That's been discontinued as the Council decided a few years ago that restaurants with beer permits could remain open into the early morning hours, but that beer service would have to stop at midnight.

Willie Conger, proprietor of Soul Train, and Malone requested and obtained that change. Now, they want another.

City staff drafted a proposed amendment in conjunction with discussion at the Beer Board meeting one week ago this afternoon. It's prepared for the Council's consideration during the panel's regular monthly meeting to begin at 6 p.m. Thursday. That meeting date is a postponement of the normal meeting time on the second Tuesday night of the week. It's because of Veterans Day.

The proposed change to the city's beer law adds a paragraph saying that a special permit may be issued to sell beer for drinking at a restaurant where meals are not served six days a week "provided the applicant has an existing on-premises permit and has been in business for four years or more."

It's a change that extrapolates on a two-day-per-week permit that's been available for more than a decade.

The proposed amendment also says restaurants that get a two-day permit "shall be open a minimum of two days a week and serve at least two meals per day when open."

Those proposed provision for the beer law are reportedly set for discussion as new and/or other business.

Also set for Council's consideration are pending ordinances that would:

* Better define the intent of a law on the required distance between the street a home's front wall when the house is on a corner lot.

* Close sections of Barney Street and Kings Road that have no effect on traffic flow.

The Council is to hold a public hearing on the proposed closure of those two streets during the 10 minutes before the meeting is to begin at 6 p.m. in City Hall.