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Jonesborough board considers special beer permit, passes first reading

Becky Campbell • Nov 26, 2018 at 5:05 PM

When a small cafe in Jonesborough asked the town earlier this year to waive some of the requirements for a beer permit, leaders were hesitant, but the Board of Mayor and Aldermen recently passed the first reading of a special beer permit for a limited number of events. 

The town had looked at establishing a boutique beer permit that would allow small restaurants in town to serve on-premise beer even when the establishment isn’t large enough to qualify for an ABC license, as long as the business takes in 77 percent of its revenues through food sales. An ABC license requires a restaurant to have at least 40 seats at tables.

“The Corner Cup wanted to sell beer on special occasions, but there had to be some special conditions set up for that,” Town Administrator Bob Browning said. 

“One main concern about establishments selling beer is that they do not become beer joints with on-premise beer being the primary product for sale.”

Due to the historic status of buildings in downtown Jonesborough, many businesses are small and don’t have enough space to meet the ABC license requirement.

Browning presented a proposed ordinance at the board’s Nov. 12 meeting that will establish a Special Event Beer Permit. The ordinance’s purpose is to allow small restaurants — like the Corner Cup — to sell on-premise consumption beer on a total of 12 specific dates throughout the year.

That would allow the restaurant in question to serve beer during special town events such as Jonesborough Days or storytelling events.

“With The Corner Cup, they wanted to be able to serve beer on certain occasions, but they weren’t big enough,” Browning said. “They didn't have the floor capacity of 40 seats to get an ABC license.”

The ordinance, if passed on second reading next month, would require a small restaurant that wants to apply for the permit to designate the 12 dates for the upcoming year that it wants to serve beer. Browning said there is room for revisions to that list, but it would be handled through the police department.

The dates chosen by the restaurant would also likely change as the town adds or changes special event schedules.

Also, the special event beer permit would only be valid for 48 hours, and any changes to a planned date would have to be made 30 days in advance with the police department, according to the ordinance as it’s written.

“It’s certainly more oversight than would be typical for a community to exert in such a situation. At the same time that type of caution has been helpful to Jonesborough (avoiding) having alcohol problems,” Browning said. 

“Food service in a downtown area is a really big deal. .... How does the town balance who you want to be as a downtown with what’s offered?”

The BMA will vote on the ordinance on second reading at the Dec. 12 meeting.

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