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Downtown boosters spread the word on trial of alcohol ‘social district’

Merchants hope warmer weather generates more business from it


Two months into a yearlong trial run of a “social district” — where people can roam while drinking alcoholic beverages — downtown boosters say it’s getting a positive response.

But on a recent stroll down Hay Street, some customers — and bar workers too — said they had not heard of the option.

“I don’t know who made that rule, but thank you,” Summer Rivers said with a smile from the bar inside Pierro’s Bistro on Hay Street.

“I think it’s really a good idea,” said Rivers, 25. “You’re allowed to keep the party going. I can leave with my drink. It allows you to check out other places.”

The city launched the trial run in the downtown area on Dec. 1. People can drink alcoholic beverages purchased from participating businesses as they walk through the designated area.

Last year, the N.C. General Assembly enacted legislation allowing municipalities to designate such social districts. Cities including Raleigh, Greensboro, Kannapolis and Wilson have implemented such plans.

The beverages can be sold only by businesses with proper licenses, and they must be in to-go cups.

City officials and Cool Spring Downtown District worked together to define the boundaries of the trial social district. They hope it will boost business downtown.

The district is in effect from noon to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.

“People don’t really know about it,” bar manager Meilani Mallette said at Blue Moon Cafe on Hay Street. “I can’t say we’ve had more foot traffic because of it. But people like being able to take their drinks with them.

“If we didn’t think it was a good idea, we wouldn’t participate in it,” Mallette said. “We’re for it.”

Ken, a 42-year-old Raeford resident who did not give his last name, was socializing in a patio setting at the corner of Hay and Person streets. He said he knew that Raleigh has a similar social district.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea, if you’re not belligerent,” he said.

A ‘more livable’ city

Bianca Shoneman is president and CEO of Cool Spring Downtown District.

“The social district levels the playing field between big-box retailers and local, independent retailers by creating opportunities for people to celebrate commerce in a new way,” Shoneman said. “It also fosters an air of walkability, which creates camaraderie between merchants and restaurants. I’m of the opinion that it makes for a more livable city.”

All the feedback that Cool Spring has received has been favorable, she said.

“We’re talking good behavior among patrons,” she said, adding that her team has conducted a formal survey of people who have taken advantage of the district.

“We didn’t get many responses just because many of them said it was too new to tell the impact,” Shoneman said. “The overall sentiment was when you rate the social district on a scale of one to five, it was a five.”

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Shanniek Chambers, a shift leader at Pierro’s, said the social district concept has generated some extra business for the restaurant. But owner Bruce Knox said it has done little for his Bruce’s Sportsblock and Lounge on Person Street.

Things may be different, Knox said, once the weather warms up in the spring and summer.

“Just trying to get people to come down on Person Street past the Market House,” he said. “When it gets warmer, it might start there. But right now, it’s not that busy.”

The 47 participating businesses include restaurants, breweries, retailers and attractions, Shoneman said.

“A lot of the businesses that are selling into the district are reporting an enthusiastic response from the consumers,” she said. “And retailers that host the beverages have said it has been good for commerce.”

Shoneman said that Cool Spring had worked with city officials, downtown merchants and property owners over the past year to bring the concept forward.

Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at mfutch@cityviewnc.com.

Fayetteville, social district, downtown, entertainment