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Bar owners in North Carolina got a second shot of good news this week, as Gov. Roy Cooper signed a bill delaying ABC permit fees until the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
Cooper signed House Bill 4 into law Thursday, offering bar and restaurants a reprieve from ABC permit fees until three months after COVID-related restrictions are lifted. Since North Carolina only eased some restrictions this week, measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus look to remain in place for months.
House Bill 4, sponsored by Henderson County Republican Timothy Moffitt, received unanimous support in the General Assembly.
“The pandemic has hit bar owners hard, and this bill offers needed relief from the burden of fees as they work to keep their businesses afloat and create more jobs,” Cooper said Thursday in a press release.
The bill came in response to the cancellation of the liquor licenses of 120 North Carolina bars earlier this year. In January around 10% of the state’s bars were surprised to find their ABC permits canceled for non-payment. Last year, the state had suspended ABC fees, as many bars and restaurants were closed and unable to sell alcohol.
The new law reinstates those canceled permits and refunds fees for bars and restaurants that had already paid.
One day earlier, Cooper announced a new executive order allowing drinks to be served inside bars for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Bars had been limited to outdoor service only, but can now open up at 30% capacity. That move was applauded by the North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, which has been one of the most vocal critics against keeping bars closed.
“This is a huge, hard-fought win,” said NCBATA president and Raleigh bar owner Zack Medford, in a statement. “The lessening of these restrictions would never have been possible without the tireless efforts of NCBATA members and allies for the past 343 days. We look forward to continuing to build on this success with the Governor’s Office, and helping get our bar and taverns back on their feet after such a devastating year.”
But after nearly a year without income, dozens of North Carolina bars have already closed and some owners have already moved on.
Crissy Porter owns the roadside bar The Spring in rural Wake County and was one of the 120 bars that had its ABC permit canceled. Since shutting down last March, Porter took another job and recently signed a lease with an employee who wants to take over The Spring, moving her from bartender to landlord.
“I’m going to let someone else have a stab at it,” Porter said. “It’s been a pretty brutal year.”
Months of uncertainty came to a head in January, she said, when The Spring saw its liquor license canceled. She’s thankful the state responded and said she’ll be waiting on a check for the two months left on her ABC permit when she couldn’t sell drinks.
“It’s just an issue of fairness; you shouldn’t have to pay for something you can’t use,” Porter said. “It’s a shame everyone had to raise such a ruckus to get something done about it.”