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After much discussion, Locust passes brunch bill ordinance in tight 4-3 vote

Locust City Council Thursday night in a 4 to 3 vote passed an ordinance which will allow alcohol sales beginning at 10 a.m. on Sundays.

The ordinance took effect immediately after the vote, so restaurants can start offering alcohol at 10 a.m. beginning this Sunday.

The so-called “brunch bill,” which was signed into state law in 2017, has been passed by municipalities across the state, including Albemarle, Concord, Mount Pleasant and Charlotte. Previously alcohol could only be served on Sundays in N.C. beginning at noon.

The council first debated the ordinance a few years ago, but didn’t pass it since at the time there was only one restaurant that would have benefited.

The request for council approval of the ordinance was recently brought up again by The Local Room, which wrote a letter to City Administrator Cesar Correa asking for the council to make the change.

“We feel like doing so would help promote the growth of our business and stands to offer the people of Stanly County and outlying counties a place to gather,” Matthew Harris and the other Local Room owners wrote about the city adopting the ordinance.

Several members of the community spoke about the ordinance during a public hearing before the council made its decision.

Former councilman Joe Bishop, who is chairman of the Locust ABC Board, supported the ordinance, calling it “a very good business decision for this town,” especially since many other local municipalities have already approved it.

But two other residents, Coy Eudy and Howard Henegar, pastor of Living Waters Ministries, both expressed opposition.

“The hours of 10 a.m. to 12, I have always been taught that is church time, not drinking time,” Eudy told the council. He added that the council will be judged “by the community first and by God later on,” regarding their position on the matter.

In explaining why he was against the brunch bill, Henegar invoked several verses of the Bible that cautioned against drinking, especially in excess. From a personal standpoint, Henegar also mentioned that he’s had family members and friends who have died as a result of alcohol abuse.

One strong proponent of the ordinance was the N.C. Retail Merchants Association, which wrote a letter to the city encouraging it to pass the brunch bill.

“By allowing such sales to begin at 10:00 a.m. on Sundays, employees are able to work more hours and retailers can collect more sales and excise taxes,” the NCRMA wrote.

When it came time to debate the merits of the ordinance, council members took turns giving their rationale behind how they planned to vote.

Roger Hypes, who initially explained his opposition to the brunch bill during last month’s meeting, said that passing the ordinance would go against Locust’s image as a “City with a Soul.” In opposing the ordinance, Locust could differentiate itself from other municipalities in the area and stand out.

In explaining why he would vote against it, J.C. Burris noted that Sunday mornings should be spent in worship at church.

Many of the members that supported the brunch bill didn’t view the matter from a religious or moral standpoint; they saw it as a potential economic boost to the city.

Rusty Efird supported the ordinance as a way to show solidarity with the many restaurants that have struggled over the past year because of the pandemic.

“They’re asking us to do this,” he said, “so I say we should stand with them.”

While Harry Fletcher initially opposed the bill when it first came up for a vote, he has since changed his mind because he wants the restaurants in the city “to be on the same playing field” as those in other municipalities that have already passed the measure.

Though he didn’t have a vote, Mayor Steve Huber offered his opinion, saying passing the ordinance would not compromise Locust’s image.

“These are adults making adult decisions and I personally don’t think this decision, one way or another, is going to cause a major collapse in the way we do business and the quality of the life that we have,” Huber said.

After about 30 minutes of discussion, the city council took a roll call vote, where each member voted “yes” or “no” as his or her name was called out. Council members Efird, Fletcher, Larry Baucom and Mandy Watson voted for the ordinance while Hypes, Burris and Mike Haigler voted against it.

“We figured it would be a tight vote, but we’re very pleased with the outcome, not only for the citizens here but for people that are brunch goers from all over,” said Matthew Klepp, co-owner of The Local Room, who was in attendance.

“With this brunch bill passing, it will bring a lot of people from Charlotte and outlying municipalities to come see what we have to offer and help show what an amazing town Locust is,” Klepp added.

Baucom seemed to encapsulate how many people were feeling during his closing comments.

“The city does not stand still,” he said, “it’s either going backwards or it’s going forwards.”

While he acknowledged that change can be uncomfortable, he said “as we do things, we have to look forward.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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