For more than 10 years, Village Wine and Cheese on Broadway has served its outdoor diners alcohol. Because of the small outdoor dining area, some of the patrons sat at tables on city sidewalks.
In April, Village Wine and Cheese owner Kathy Fluesmeier was notified by the Columbia Police Department that she was in violation of city ordinance 17600 — “possession of open container of alcoholic beverage or consumption of alcoholic beverage in certain public places.” She no longer serves alcohol to the outdoor diners.
“We used to serve wine outside, and that was positive. We have a lot of people who like to sit outside for the Twilight Festival,” Fluesmeier said.
Someone complained to the police that Village Wine and Cheese was violating the open container ordinance. Fluesmeier said before April 9 she had never been told she was in violation of the law.
“To the best of my knowledge I don’t think that it was a frequent occurrence because our officers would’ve noted it and taken the appropriate action,” said Randy Boehm, Columbia police chief.
The Columbia Special Business District is in the process of submitting a recommendation to the City Council that would make exceptions to the open container ordinance that would allow area restaurants to serve alcohol in their sidewalk seating areas.
“This was in response to a lot of our businesses that have sidewalk cafes,” said Carrie Gartner, director of the Special Business District. “We’re trying to encourage a lively culture and this would encourage businesses to serve on the sidewalk.
“Basically it would make something legal that people were doing anyway and didn’t know was illegal. And that’s what really started it,” Gartner said.
Sixth Ward City Council Representative Brian Ash supports a revision to the ordinance. Ash owns Bambino’s Italian Cafe.
“I’m not faulting the police at all. If someone actually calls and complains, it’s the law — their hands are tied and they have to enforce the law,” Ash said. “But if no one complains, it’s hard to understand why someone would get upset about someone having a glass of wine on the sidewalk with their dinner.”
Only four businesses are directly affected by the ordinance. Each has an atmospherethat they argue is enhanced by the ability to serve on the sidewalk.
“(Outdoor dining) is a different type of dining experience when the weather’s nice outside,” Gartner said. “The more we can make that happen, the better it is for business, the better it is for a lively sidewalk culture, and (the) better it is for customers.”
Leta Harvey, owner of Classy’s Restaurant at 1013 E. Broadway, said the revisions to the ordinance would help her business, “but we don’t have that many drinkers.”
Although the Special Business District is trying to make serving alcohol on the sidewalk legal, there would be restrictions.
“Our regulations are pretty strict,” Gartner said. “You can only be served alcohol when you are sitting at a table. It is limited to lunchtime and dinner hours. For Sundays, it requires a Sunday liquor license.”
Lunchtime and dinner hours are defined as 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The alcohol must be ordered with food and all alcohol must be consumed by 10 p.m.
“We feel pretty comfortable with the restrictions of the proposal,” Boehm said.
Tara Nichols, Ninth Street Deli day supervisor, said if the ordinance is revised they will probably expand their outdoor seating.
“(Drinking is) not bothering anybody unless you’re belligerent,” Nichols said.
A date has not been set for the issue to go before the City Council, but Gartner is confident that they can come to an agreement.
“I think that the council’s views on this are pretty much in line with my board’s in that we all feel that we want to protect the open container ordinance so that it will keep Columbia from being like New Orleans.”
Ash was optimistic about revising the ordinance.
“I would guess that it would be warmly received,” he said.