COLUMBUS — Local bar, restaurant, liquor store and convenience store representatives united Monday night in their opposition to a Sunday morning hard alcohol ban they described as nonsensical, outdated and unfair.
Nearly 20 people showed up at this week’s Columbus City Council meeting to support a proposal that would allow the sale of hard liquor starting at 6 a.m. on Sundays, with most of the testifiers arguing that a change is needed to better serve customers and do away with a religious-based “blue law” that no longer applies to today’s society.
Travis Johnson, a part-time bartender at Glur’s Tavern, called the current rule that allows businesses to sell beer and wine starting at 6 a.m. on Sundays but makes them wait until noon to serve hard liquor “baffling.”
Sunday is no longer the “holy day” it once was, he told the council, noting that many people work on Sundays and a number of local businesses are open that day — although Glur’s is closed on Sunday mornings.
“It’s been 80 years since Prohibition and surely it’s time to update alcohol laws for the 21st century,” he said.
Matt Moseman, a bartender at Shenanigans just outside the city limits who has worked at several other local watering holes, agreed with that assessment.
“This provision represented what was once considered the best thinking of the time,” he said. “Times have changed and I believe so should we.”
Currently, beer and wine can be sold in Columbus 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. Columbus City Council members voted 5-3 against the proposal when it first came up in 2013.
Tiffany Cech, a manager at Bo’s West, led the current effort to get the ordinance changed.
She told the council she spent four months talking to business owners, church representatives, police officers and other first responders, and nobody could tell her why the Sunday morning ban is needed.
The business owners, she said, all supported eliminating the ban as a way to better serve customers and make life easier on the employees who can sell a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine on Sunday mornings while making sure whiskey and vodka stays on the shelf.
“If you can respect us to do our jobs six other days out of the week, why can’t you respect us to do it on Sunday mornings?” Cech asked the council.
Corner Stop owner Jed Brunken echoed those comments about customer service and reducing the burden on employees while referencing a fairness issue for local manufacturing plant workers with overnight shifts that end on Sunday mornings.
“After 12 hours they like to buy a little something to relax and hopefully get some sleep,” he said.
Those speaking in favor of the change said it would also be beneficial during special events such as poker runs, live bands and pool, bowling or golf tournaments that start early on Sundays and can bring in people from other communities.
The 30-minute debate wasn’t entirely one-sided, though.
Columbus Police Chief Chuck Sherer said he doesn’t think the “community standard” should be changed so businesses can sell a few Bloody Marys on Sunday mornings.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said.
However, the police chief did add that he “wouldn’t anticipate” a jump in alcohol-related problems on Sunday mornings should the change be made while responding to a question from Mayor Jim Bulkley.
Columbus resident Pete Balerud, the general manager at North Bend Golf Course, said Sunday morning hard liquor sales were added there a couple of years ago to meet customer demand.
“We don’t really have any issues with it,” he said, noting that Sunday morning beer sales still outpace distilled spirits, which mainly consist of a few Bloody Marys.
The local Columbian Club wrote a letter opposing Sunday morning hard liquor sales, as did Project Extra Mile, which warned the change would “endanger public health and safety in Columbus.”
The Omaha-based coalition stated that Nebraska has a “demonstrated problem with excessive alcohol consumption” that would be exacerbated locally if hard liquor sales are expanded. The group said there’s a “clear distinction” between the harms created by beer and distilled spirits.
Councilwoman Beth Augustine-Schulte added to the opposition by saying she sees “no value” in lifting the Sunday morning ban.
If people need a drink after work, they can buy a bottle ahead of time and have it at home, she argued.
The businesses represented at Monday night’s meeting may want the change, she said, but people in Alcoholics Anonymous and domestic abuse support groups probably see things differently.
“I don’t care how archaic it is, I will vote no for it every time it comes up,” Augustine-Schulte said. “I’m totally opposed to it.”
She did just that Monday night, voting against advancing the proposal to the ordinance stage along with Councilman John Lohr.
The proposal advanced on a 6-2 vote and will now return to the city council as an ordinance. Typically, three readings are held before an ordinance receives a final vote.
Bulkley told council members who support the Sunday morning ban that they better be ready to oppose other alcohol-related requests, including permits that allow booze consumption during special events and at venues such as the library, churches, schools and chamber of commerce.
“If we’re going to go down the self-righteous or moral side, then we need to be fair,” he said.