Glenda Fraley, a bartender at the Sidetrack Bar & Grill, pours a beer for a customer. The county recorded it's highest alcohol sales for a month in July.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Although smoking might be on its way out in Columbia County restaurants, alcohol consumption is apparently in.
Revenue from alcohol sales tax in Columbia County hit the highest mark for a month in July, peaking at $79,000, said the county's Planning Director Jeff Browning.
Speaking to county commissioners about the increase recently, Browning said July is typically a slow month for such revenue and joked about why the increase might have occurred.
"I don't know if it was the elections or what," he said to a roomful of laughter.
Browning later said the cause could be the addition of several new restaurants in the county this year.
"I don't have an explanation other than more restaurants coming in," he said, adding that this year five alcohol licenses have been approved in Columbia County.
"Three and a half years ago, if we grew one or two (alcohol licenses) a year that was a pretty significant growth," he said.
The increase comes as county commissioners are considering a ban on smoking in public places, to include restaurants. Those in support of the ban say it shouldn't hurt business.
Typically, July's alcohol sales tax returns are about $67,000, Browning said. The highest figure he's seen for a month since he started his job more than three years ago, he said, was $75,000 in January.
News of more alcohol sales came as no surprise to Sheila Johnson, assistant kitchen manager for Fatz Cafe in Evans, which opened in March.
"Our business is great," she said. "We've still got high volume."
Susan Werner, a co-owner of Twisted Chicken in Evans, which opened in March, said she also has seen the same trend.
"We're getting people coming in specifically for happy hour at the bar," she said. "Our bar business this past month has just raised tremendously from when we first opened."
At Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Martinez, though, alcohol sales have not increased or decreased. Gloria Chastain, a manager of the restaurant, said her number of customers hasn't decreased either since new restaurants opened in Evans, mostly because of repeat customers and new offerings on the restaurant's menu.
Joe Pobalis, of Modoc, is one of the Sidetrack's frequent customers.
"It's one of the few bars my wife will come into," he said with a laugh about why he often visits the restaurant.
Another change this year also is being seen in how restaurants are selling alcohol, Browning said. In the past, he said, restaurants asked either for a beer and wine license or a distilled spirits license. Now, he said, all restaurants are asking for both in order to offer a full bar.
Sidetrack made that changeover in April, mostly to keep up with competition, Pobalis said.
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