“All attempts at legislating morality have failed, that I’m aware of,” longtime Canton resident and frequent meeting attendee Roland Osborne told the board Oct. 12.
Osborne’s comment came at the end of the 15-minute hearing held to solicit public input on the “Brunch Bill” recently passed by the North Carolina General Assembly.
That bill allows both on-premise and off-premise alcohol sales on Sundays beginning at 10 a.m. instead of the current noon start time, but local governments must pass an ordinance before service can begin.
“They are giving municipalities the chance to decide what’s best for them,” Canton Mayor Mike Ray said at the outset of the hearing, which featured only four speakers.
Were it any other time, on any other day, adding two hours a week to the hours already available for alcohol service wouldn’t cause much of a fuss.
But the fact that it’s 10 a.m. on a Sunday is what’s generated controversy; despite its status as the (illegal) moonshine capital of the world, Western North Carolina’s tolerance for retail alcohol sales has historically been far less than in other parts of the state, the region and the country.
Churches and pastors, in particular, have voiced the greatest concerns.
At a similar hearing in Maggie Valley Oct. 9, Wayne Burgess, representing the First Baptist Church of Maggie Valley, told the town board, “At 10 a.m., we feel like it’s God’s time.”
And during a preliminary discussion of a proposed brunch ordinance Sept. 14, Bethel Baptist Rev. Roy Kilby warned that those who support such an ordinance “become party to those” who are addicted to alcohol.
Kilby wasn’t at the formal public hearing Oct. 12, but one religious opponent was — Pastor David Vos of Canton Wesleyan Church.
“I get it,” Vos told the board. “Alcohol sales is big business.”
Vos admitted he was probably in the minority on the issue, and has said previously that a brunch ordinance would place the town’s prosperity and the town’s moral values into conflict.
But if the ordinance was passed, Vos said “I won’t take my ball and go home,” but that he would instead devote time to working with others to develop “family friendly, progressive economic development ideas.”
Canton has few establishments that would benefit from the ordinance at present; while no one from BearWaters Brewing — which recently snagged a prestigious award from the Great American Beer Festival — attended the hearing, Canton’s other major bar showed up in force.
“I think the town of Canton is doing a phenomenal job with the so-called ‘Canton comeback,’” said Nathan Lowe, owner of Southern Porch. “Since we opened our business in April 2016 we’ve gotten to see about 10 new businesses either move to Canton or start their business here in Canton. It’s something that we are very excited about.”
Lowe noted that both Asheville and Waynesville have passed an ordinance allowing for the earlier start time; betwixt them lies Canton.
“We’re obviously right in the middle and I believe as a town we would benefit,” he said. “It’s not something that’s going to catapult our business to the next step but it is going to benefit our business whether you’re a churchgoer or not. More and more people are coming to Canton.”
One man who came to Canton — and to Maggie Valley, and to Waynesville — was Dave Angel; Angel owns a new craft distillery in Maggie Valley and has been advocating for the measure everywhere it’s been heard in Haywood County.
Although a brunch ordinance in any of the municipalities wouldn’t benefit his business much, Angel’s been building a strong business case for the ordinances, citing stats about the statewide and regional economic growth attributable to brewing, wine and spirit manufacturing, and retailing.
“The signal you send to the industry with the Brunch Bill says a lot more than you think,” he said, echoing comments he made in Waynesville and Maggie Valley, where the issue is yet unresolved.
But in Canton, Angel for the first time directly addressed the religious arguments against the bill.
“Read your Bible,” Angel, a regular churchgoer, told the board. “Read the whole Bible. God explains the purpose of alcohol in our lives is moderation.”
It was this comment that prompted Osborne’s prescient statement about legislating morality, just as the hearing drew to a close.
The board has moved slowly on the proposed brunch ordinance, to allow for a substantial period of public discussion; the public hearing Oct. 12 wasn’t the last step in the process, but it was an important one.
No action was taken on the ordinance, nor was any expected; at the hearing’s conclusion, no alderman or alderwoman made any comments on what had been said, or what they were thinking — other than Alderman Zeb Smathers, who agreed with the postponement and hoped the board would vote at the next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 26. Smathers wasn’t at the meeting but was listening in by phone.
“I’m sure this will be reprinted in our newspapers, and give people a chance to contact us,” said Mayor Ray.
Have an opinion on the Brunch Bill? Contact your Canton alderman or alderwoman:
Mayor Michael B. Ray
Alderwoman Carole Edwards
Alderman Dr. Ralph Hamlett
Alderwoman Gail Mull
Alderman Zeb Smathers