Opinion: Daily Journal

New Bern trailing the field in Sunday alcohol sales

New Bern has given opponents of Senate Bill 155 — teetotaling lawmakers and religious leaders — a reason to flash a crooked smile.

Those who wrung their hands and told of dark times to come should North Carolina pass a law allowing 10 a.m. Sunday alcohol were somewhat vindicated Tuesday, when aldermen in the Craven County city failed to approve local sales.

Cooper signed the bill into law June 30. The brunch provision is just one aspect of the bill, which also allows craft distillers to sell five bottles to customers each year, instead of the current one, and allows the distillers to offer tastings at festivals and other events. The tastings are contingent on local approval, as are the Sunday sales.

Carrboro was the first to open the Sunday brunch bar early. Since then, Raleigh, Atlantic Beach, Hendersonville, and Surf City have joined the party. That list will grow. Beech Mountain, Blowing Rock, according to a tweet, have signed on, as well.

So have Troutman, Banner Elk, and Wrightsville Beach — if Twitter is to be believed.

That list won’t include New Bern, at least not yet. Aldermen there took it upon themselves to decide what’s best for the residents of the city, to the chagrin of business people, many residents and restaurant owners.

“I think it’s an absolute embarrassment that our mayor and aldermen didn’t approve it,” Buddy Bengel of Baker’s Kitchen Restaurant & Bakery on Middle Street told New Bern’s WCTI-TV.

New Bern Alderman Jeffrey Odham, the city said in a tweet, made a motion for local approval but no one offered to second it and there was no vote, The Associated Press wrote. Opponents of the proposal said it would deter people from going to church.

North Carolina lawmakers made similar arguments as the bill bumped along in the General Assembly. People will leave church early and head to the bar, and drunkards will disrupt Sunday services. Beer and wine, some said, well, they’re here and we must live with it. But not that demon whiskey. And on it went.

Proponents were fighting for innovation, free markets, and entrepreneurship. They conceded and compromised yet succeeded in pushing forward those ideals.

Odham seems to share that vision.

“On Sunday mornings at 10 a.m., you will find me and my family at church,” he told me in an email. “But it’s not my place as an elected official to tell grown adults, who are of legal drinking age, that they have to wait two hours longer in New Bern than our neighboring municipalities. This could adversely affect tourism in a city that is very much dependent on that particular industry.”

The new brunch law and religion should run peaceably parallel, without the risk of intersection, as Odham suggests. As the recent legislative session showed, lawmakers, aldermen, council members, and commissioners would do well to eschew the wayward dirt roads and dusty paths that head toward the confused junction of faith and policy.

As noted, New Bern is picturesque and relatively progressive community nestled at the confluence of the Trent and Neuse rivers. Tryon Palace, the one-time home of the royal governor — it burned but was rebuilt — is there, and the town’s historic district is beautifully quaint and welcoming.

The decision by city leaders to maintain the status quo is nothing if not surprising, especially for such an attractive destination for tourists. The town will approve 10 a.m. sales. Eventually. If this current board fails to catch up with the people of New Bern, the next board will. Voters will see to that.