COLUMBUS — Times have changed.
Businesses are open on Sunday mornings now and some of those businesses happen to sell alcohol to customers looking for a weekend drink.
That’s the message representatives of local alcohol retailers delivered Monday to the city’s Public Property, Safety and Works Committee while lobbying for a change that would allow hard liquor sales on Sunday mornings.
Bo’s West manager Tiffany Cech, who submitted the request on behalf of several local businesses, said Sundays should be treated like any other day of the week when it comes to alcohol sales.
However, that’s currently not the case in Columbus.
Beer and wine can be sold here from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. any day of the week. The same hours apply to hard liquor sales, except on Sundays, when purchases can’t be made until noon, regardless of whether it’s at a bar, restaurant or package liquor store.
Nebraska began allowing hard liquor sales beginning at 6 a.m. on Sundays in 2012, but it’s up to individual communities and counties to set the rules for their jurisdictions.
Cech said she’d like to see earlier hours on Sundays to “better serve the customer.”
“People work on Sundays,” she said, and some of those workers coming off overnight shifts want a mixed drink to wind down.
Corner Stop owner Jed Brunken sees plenty of those third-shift workers at his convenience store, located along 23rd Street near several manufacturing plants.
Adjusting the Sunday hours isn’t about increasing profits, he said, it’s a way to satisfy customers and make the job easier on his employees, who are allowed to sell a six-pack of beer on Sunday mornings but not a bottle of whiskey.
The current rules are confusing for both cashiers and customers, he told the committee, especially around holidays and other special events when the demand for hard alcohol rises.
“That’s really hard to handle when people want to buy a little cheer on Christmas,” he said.
Bob Hiner, owner of BT’s Bar in downtown Columbus, also supports the change, even though his business isn’t currently open on Sundays.
“But I guess I would like that option to be able to do that,” he said, seeing a benefit during poker runs and other events that start on Sunday mornings.
Cech said there are other businesses that support the earlier Sunday sales, but representatives were unable to attend Monday’s 4 p.m. meeting.
They did find a couple of other allies in Councilman Prent Roth and Mayor Jim Bulkley.
“I don’t see any difference between hard liquor and beer and wine,” Roth said, noting that he’s been unable to order a Bloody Mary before noon on a Sunday on more than one occasion.
“In my opinion, we ought to be on equal playing between beer, wine and spirits,” he said.
Bulkley called the proposal a “business situation,” saying the city needs to consider what local business owners want and trust them to manage it responsibly.
If city officials want to be “self-righteous” about alcohol sales, he said, then they better show consistency when considering permits that allow booze consumption during special events.
Those permits, which cover events at the library, churches, schools and other venues without liquor licenses, including the annual Columbus Days street dances, are often backed by the city with little to no discussion among council members.
“We can sit here and we can say all we want about who can drink and who can’t, but then we better be ready to be firm,” Bulkley said.
Opponents of the earlier Sunday liquor sales argued that the change would send the wrong message to the community, particularly youths, when the same request was made by business owners in 2013. They also had concerns about fueling alcohol-related health issues.
Police Chief Chuck Sherer was the only person to speak against the request during Monday’s meeting.
He said there’s a “lack of compelling information” to change the alcohol rules. Keeping the current hours is in the “best interest of the community,” Sherer told the committee.
The Public Property, Safety and Works Committee did not make a recommendation on the proposal, which will go before the full city council on Monday night.
The committee members agreed they want to hear from more people, including business owners and the remaining council members, during that meeting.
Columbus City Council voted 5-3 against extending the Sunday hours for hard liquor sales in 2013.
Charlie Bahr, who was absent from Monday’s committee meeting, is the only remaining council member to support the change at that time. Bulkley, serving as a councilman then, also voted in favor of the proposal along with former Councilman Ron Bogus.
John Lohr, Rich Jablonski, Beth Augustine-Schulte and Ron Schilling, all of whom still serve on the council, opposed the measure along with former Councilman Terry Reardon.