City sets grace period for new law on sales of alcohol|[04/11/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday was the official first day of new beer and light wine sales restrictions in Vicksburg, but officials said they will give merchants until May 1 to gear up by purchasing time-sensitive software, train employees and post signs, City Attorney Nancy Thomas said this morning.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen acted on suggestions made by Vicksburg Police Chief Tommy Moffett and Deputy Chief Richard O’Bannon, who have linked crime to late-night drinking, in adding restrictions to the hours and manner of sales.

“I received numerous calls from vendors who said they had to change computer programs and had to train employees,” Thomas said. “We decided we would give them a grace period.”

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Many convenience stores quickly removed ice tubs near cash registers, banned in the ordinance. Because sales of single beers are still legal, some replaced the tubs with mechanical refrigerators, which are allowed.

Thomas said larger grocers, such as Wal-Mart SuperCenter, will purchase special software that will prohibit the cash register from scanning alcohol other than during hours when sales are legal. Stores also needed more time to train employees, who will have to enforce the laws, she said.

“Because it dealt with employees, we decided people needed sufficient time,” Thomas said.

Moffett said he was not aware of the grace period until this morning, but no arrests dealing with alcohol were made Thursday. He said, once in effect, police will enforce the restrictions, which are all new for stores selling for off-premises consumption. Before the ordinance was passed, beer and light wine could be sold around the clock, seven days a week. That’s still true for areas of Warren County outside the city limits.

“I think the majority of our citizens want a good quality of life,” Moffett said, explaining his support for the new law.

He also said more could be done, citing people who consume alcohol and approach tourists, asking for money and harassing them. He also said more emphasis will be placed on keeping known alcoholics from purchasing or being served alcohol.

“We plan to go to the liquor stores and bars and provide them with a list of names we know are alcoholics,” he said. Selling to a person who has already become intoxicated is also prohibited in the law.

Casinos and businesses with resort status under state laws governing sales for on-premises consumption will be untouched by the new laws.

Most affected by the city’s new ordinance will be Anderson’s Cafe on First North Street, the last remaining neighborhood bar — defined as being within 300 feet of a neighborhood — in the city. It will be required to close at 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday and will not be able to reopen until 1 p.m. Sunday.

Vicksburg previously had a “honky-tonk” ordinance, requiring neighborhood beer halls to close at 10 p.m. It was relaxed by the current administration, but too late for most taverns.

New beer lawGrocery and convenience stores may not sell beer or light wine between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and between the hours of 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday.People younger than 21 may not enter businesses serving beer or light wine, except where permitted by state law.Grocery and convenience stores may not sell single beers or light wine from ice tubs.Brown-bagging, as defined as the act of carrying beer, light wine or alcohol into a public or private establishment, is legal except between the hours of 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday.Neighborhood bars or clubs within a residential zone must close by 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday and not reopen until 7 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.The new laws do not apply to casinos, businesses with resort status and businesses governed by the state Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control.