By Natalie Anderson
KANNAPOLIS – While the City of Salisbury plans to do the same, Kannapolis residents say it’s too early to see the impact of its new downtown social district and they expect to see benefits in the spring and in the summer – when more people are on the move.
A social neighborhood allows consumers to purchase alcohol from state-licensed businesses and restaurants and walk around a designated neighborhood with specially marked cups. Kannapolis was among the first cities to implement such a district in October, shortly after Bill 890 passed the North Carolina General Assembly. The Kannapolis neighborhood includes portions of West Avenue, Oak Avenue, Vance Street, Laureate Way, Cannon Baller Way, West B Street, and Main Street.
Kayla Garmon, manager of Chophouse 101 on West Avenue, said the restaurant has yet to see a huge difference because of the winter. However, customers are now advised that while waiting, they can buy a drink from the bar and enjoy it outside before being seated. Garmon said customers appreciated this as a way to avoid feeling crowded inside.
Garmon said she’s already seeing an uptick in liquor sales, despite the restaurant having only been open for a little over a year. She predicts that this opportunity will also encourage consumers to stop in for a bite to eat.
“Honestly, we love it because it gives us a great opportunity for more sales and to tell people about us,” Garmon said.
Kannapolis Mayor Pro Tem Ryan Dayvault said he doesn’t drink, but he sees the beneficial economic impact for the downtown area, which leaders have worked to “bring to life” over the past few years.
“It’s another tool and another avenue to do it,” he said.
Dayvault said he also appreciates that the board can cancel at any time if significant issues arise. He added that the colder weather has kept more people indoors and he expects to see more of an impact in the spring and summer.
“If it’s successful, which I hope, it opens up downtown to a whole other host of things that can happen there,” Dayvault said. “It just takes that perimeter issue that many restaurants have out of the equation.”
Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant said he only received one call from a resident who feared it was encouraging excessive drinking. With no incidents reported by local law enforcement, it “really was a non-event for us,” Hinnant said.
One of the main purposes of the social district’s approval was to allow more outdoor dining, Hinnant said. He added that the social district will offer merchants the opportunity to communicate with the public in a different way to attract more business. Some traders have put products outside as another way to entice those who profit from the social district to enter.
Hinnant said city staff did a “very thorough job” of presenting the proposal and reviewing a number of details that needed to be addressed before the recommendation.
Downtown Salisbury Inc. has spent the last few months working to establish such a neighborhood in downtown Salisbury. DSI plans to propose a social quarter throughout the Municipal Services Quarter – the area officially designated as the town center – although Salisbury City Council has the final say and may choose to downsize.
The law authorizing a social district requires municipalities to provide a plan, the days and hours of alcohol consumption, signage indicating its location and a management and maintenance plan. DSI board member Samantha Haspel said a QR code will provide information about participating businesses and other information consumers need to know before enjoying the neighborhood. Codes can be scanned with smartphone cameras.
Special cups with the social district logo, the name of the business or restaurant that supplied the alcohol, and a statement discouraging underage drinking are required. Cups cannot exceed 16 ounces of alcohol, and customers would not be allowed to enter a new participating business with alcohol still in the cup. Drinks should be discarded before leaving the neighborhood.
DSI will also ask the city to provide businesses with neighborhood stickers for mugs and for the front door of their businesses indicating that they are participating in the social neighborhood. Customer name, time and date of purchase will be required. Cups should meet city recycling standards, and trash cans should be available to dispose of cups when visiting another establishment.
Throughout January, DSI held several public engagement sessions with little attendance beyond downtown bars and merchants. During a public consultation session held via Zoom on Thursday, Rexx Rexrode, a member of the Salisbury Chief Constable’s Advisory Council, asked about the added burden on police officers who he says are likely to have to answer or not not respond to nuisance calls related to drunk residents due to staffing issues within the department. DSI Director Sada Stewart Troutman said other cities that have implemented a similar model have not seen significant spikes in criminal activity. She added that DSI has included Chief Jerry Stokes in discussions on this initiative.
Haspel added that in addition to law enforcement, participating merchants will have to take responsibility for ensuring that these drinking privileges are respected responsibly.
Haspel also said people were already walking around downtown drinking, and referenced past events where downtown drinking is permitted with little concern: the annual Wine About Winter event and the New Year’s Eve celebration at Bell Tower Green Park this year where alcohol was served overnight.
Rexrode also asked about supporting businesses that don’t serve alcohol. Haspel said she went door-to-door at downtown merchants and received “almost unanimous support.”
Rexrode, who lives downtown, said he was in favor of the measure and hoped DSI could “solve all the problems”.
DSI has not yet determined the hours of operation for the district. Haspel said she understands this idea would take a “little leap of faith” and a “period of adjustment,” with “hiccups along the way” expected.
DSI will present a full proposal to city council at its February 15 meeting, with a vote expected by March 1.
For more information, visit downtown salisburync.com/socialdistrict/ or call 704-637-7814.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.