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Canton to revamp archaic pool hall ordinance

A pair of local entrepreneurs will soon open a billiard hall in downtown Canton, so long as substantial changes are made to an outdated ordinance that depicts such establishments as a breeding ground for all manner of unsavory behavior. 

“When we first started this, there were several ordinances that went against what we were aiming for,” said Alicia Putnam, who with business partner Chad Bryant is shooting for an October opening of Papertown Billiards, to be located at 151 North Main Street. 

Putnam’s concerns arise from language in Canton’s 1963 ordinance that bars persons under 18 from entering billiard halls, but that’s only the beginning of the unique restrictions currently imposed on these types of businesses. 

Per the existing ordinance, billiards halls must close between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. — something Putnam says restricts her ability to bring multi-day tournaments to the facility. She also says she can’t currently sell billiards equipment or apparel, or beer.

“It’s a great economic impact,” Putnam said. “Some of the tournaments I run throughout the year, we can have anywhere from 24 up to 68 players.”

Those players, Putnam said, often come from far afield and spend money on hotel rooms, food and other necessities during their stay. 

“To run a successful billiard room the way that we want to run it, with athletes and tournaments and bringing more folks into the town, we requested some of these ordinances be changed so we could run a more successful operation,” she said. 

When Canton aldermen were presented with a revised ordinance at the July 11 board meeting, they also posed a host of questions about some eyebrow-raising stipulations of the 1963 ordinance that are unrelated to Putnam’s requests and are not required of other businesses, like coffee shops, restaurants or retail stores. 

For example, license applicants must currently post a $500 bond and must also submit written testimony pertaining to the “character and reliability” of the applicant that is “signed by five residents and freeholders of the Town.” Freeholder is an old-fashioned term meaning landowner. 

Section 6-1049 of the ordinance says that the license required to operate a billiard hall is not to be issued any person convicted of a felony, and not to be issued to any corporate entity that has a person “who is of immoral character or who is a habitual user of intoxicating liquors or narcotic drugs.”

Alderman Dr. Ralph Hamlett wondered aloud during the meeting what the test for “immoral character” might be; he also said that if a convicted felon has paid their debt to society, they shouldn’t be restricted from running or working at a billiards hall. 

Alderwoman Gail Mull said employment decisions should be left to the employer. 

A similar provision in the ordinance — equally unenforceable — says not to issue a license to “any person to whom the Board feels, for good and reasonable cause, that it should not issue such license.”

Such provisions hearken back to a time when billiard halls were perceived — justly or not — as dangerous, lawless, undesirable additions to a town.

Putnam insists that the billion-dollar billiards industry isn’t as seedy as the ordinance portrays it, and that her establishment will be secure and well managed. 

“Here locally, in Waynesville, every year for about 30 years we have had what they call the ‘Smoky Mountain Shootout,’ a fundraiser for the ARC of Haywood,” she said. “I run and operate women’s division of that.”

Her partner, Chad Bryant, brings with him his experience in operating the former Smoky Mountain Billiards for several years. 

“This is going to be managed and operated by myself and [Bryant],” she said. “We’ll have security cameras and at least two people working at all times. We’ll be very, very well managed.”

Canton’s board — a bit shorthanded at the meeting, due to an open aldermanic seat and the absence of Mayor Zeb Smathers, who was on vacation — seemed poised to give Putnam and Bryant almost everything they asked for, except for an extension of the 11 p.m. closing time. 

Putnam, though, said that tournaments often run later than that, and that the tournaments would only occur roughly once a quarter. As a fix, the board may consider allowing the hall to remain open by special permit during such activities. 

Alderman directed town staff to revise the proposed ordinance, and will hold a public hearing on Thursday, Aug. 8, to consider the changes requested by Putnam, as well as the other stipulations in the ordinance. 

 

Be heard

The Town of Canton will hold a public hearing to gather public input on a series of changes to Section 6-1041, et. seq. of the town’s code that deals with billiard halls. 

• Date: Thursday, Aug. 8

• Time: 6:30 p.m.

• Location: W.G. Stamey Municipal Building, 58 Park St., Canton

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