Want a drink? Lets WALK A news story on how the open container policy is vital to the city of Savannah

In the square near City Market, the ground is overwhelmed with plastic cups and straws. Trash cans surrounding the park are piled up to the tip top with pizza boxes and more plastic cups. People walking together in groups are wobbling side to side, they stumble, talking loudly. This scene happens every year from the St. Patrick’s Day festivities due to the open container policy in Savannah.

This year Dawn Richardson was visiting Savannah from Canada and enjoyed her time in the city. Richardson says, “One of the main reasons I wanted to come visit Savannah is because of how free I can drink alcohol while walking around in leisure. The scenery here in Savannah is amazing, so is learning the history behind everything, I just fall into love.” Her first time visiting Savannah won’t be her last, she says.

The open container policy works well for Savannah because it brings revenue to the city by one main way, attracting more tourist, but it doesn’t work for all. Many concerns are obsessive public drunkenness along with revenue from establishments decreasing.

Tybee Island City Council on January 17, 2017 had a vote to ban alcohol usage on Tybee Beach because of complaints about drinking on the beach particularly during spring break and the annual beach event called Orange Crush. This event usually involves the indulging in alcohol in negative ways that includes minors and other visitors.

A study concluded in October 2006 called ‘Evaluating Economic Justifications for Alcohol Restrictions’ by Edward Stringham explained that there is economic reasons that can be potentially affected if alcohol was restricted. The value of the cost of the individual drink goes down due to the open container policy. Bar owners would not like this effect because it will then take revenue from their business.

Current alcohol ban on Tybee Island includes the last two weeks in April and the first two weeks in May. Several beachgoers had opinions towards the ban of alcohol on the beach. Samantha Bailey, student at Armstrong University, is a frequent beach goer and said, “When it comes to safety, I believe that the ban of alcohol on Tybee is necessary because of the past violence that has happened on our beach.” Candace Johnson, also a student at Armstrong University said, “After the event of Orange Crush, the beach is just trashed and then it forces good people like me to come out the next and clean up after those people.”

In the U.S. there are seven other cities that have open container policies: Butte, Mont., Erie, Pa., Fredericksburg, Texas, Gulfport, Miss., Hood River, Ore., Las Vegas, Nev., and New Orleans, La. The open container policy allows visitors and citizens of that city to enjoy an alcohol beverage around the city freely without getting a fine from law enforcement. Savannah’s open container policy includes most of the downtown area that is considered the historic part of the city.

The December 2010 issue of the journal International journal of Health Care Finance and Economics, it’s an article called ‘The Effects of residential proximity to bars on alcohol consumption’ and it explains the importance of knowing what type of alcohol is necessary for that city. The relationships between the often bar hoppers and visitors to the open container policy is that when law enforcement needs to spot quickly someone walking down the street with a cup in their hand, they know it’s either beer, wine, or another liquor product.

Visitors to Savannah already know about the open container policy and use it to their advantage. The boundaries include starting by the centerline of Talmadge Memorial Bridge all the way up through the railroad tracks by the Savannah River and also the City Market area.

Cindy Landolt, Department of Revenue for the City of Savannah, explained how the city grows all the time with the help of alcohol sales. Landolt said “Three percent tax of every drink that’s sold goes to the city of Savannah based on the retail scale.” The average price of a mixed drink in Savannah is $10-$12.

Festivals that take place in Savannah, Ga, St. Patrick’s Day will always be considered one highlight holiday that brings a lot of revenue to the city. So, many would question what would happen to Savannah’s revenue if the open container policy was gone. Landolt said, “Definitely a lot of those businesses in the downtown area will lose money in their establishment.” Cindy Landolt also said that the city tax revenue from drink sales would drop 2.3 percent without the open container policy law.

An article concluded in summer 1988 called ‘Power, Politics, and Public Health: The Political Power of the Alcohol Beverage Industry by Patricia A. Morgan that explained how the federal government had two contradicting interests in alcohol. The government collected over $74 million in taxes from alcohol, so this is proof that alcohol in major cities is vital. Savannah is already huge on tourism so what better way to have the open container policy to benefit the city more in alcohol sales.

Restaurants and bars down in City Market include chain restaurants such as Wet Willies (which happens to be a chain restaurant) and then it’s those self-owned businesses such as the popular bars called Bar Bar and Tree House. On an average party night, those clubs charge a cover charge of $5-$10. In the club, there are card limits of about $10 which means that when someone is using their card to purchase items, the amount has to be higher than then card limit.

In Wet Willies, the environment is quieter and prices tend to be cheaper than the bars; a small is $7, medium is $8, and the large is $9. On a recent night, customers were excited to choose what flavors they wanted to mix together. The back wall behind the bar is varies of different alcoholic-slushy drinks that also have a difference in the level of alcohol in them.

If a customer is looking for a long night of fun, the suggested drink would be the “Call a Cab.” For the people that aren’t heavy drinkers, they offer virgin drinks with no alcohol but they will still taste the fruitiness of the slushy.

Owner of Wet Willies, Bill Dickenson, has been over this establishment for about six years and enjoys every part of his job. Dickenson says, “I’ve always loved the culture of Wet Willies because it’s not the typical bar scene, but we sell alcohol. Customers are able to order the drink of their desire and then have the choice to participate in the open container law.”

Meanwhile over at Bar Bar, which happens to be very close to Wet Willies, has currently started to have a cover charge of $5 on the weekends and some week days. That news doesn’t sit well with frequent customers who are always paying for drinks at the bar inside the club. Miranda Williams said “I think that five dollars at the door is bull s--t. If someone like me, always buying at least two drinks a night and still tipping the bartender, why should I have to pay five dollars? I think it’s a very selfish move on the club but most importantly, the owner.” Mike Strickland, owner of Bar Bar, said “My club is one of the most popular clubs for people in Savannah to come to, especially on the weekends. It was just a smart business decision move to have a cover charge.”

Tree House is another bar downtown in the City Market area that participates in a cover charge of $5. What makes Tree House different in this topic is that they have always had a cover charge so faithful bar hoppers are already aware of it at the door, no surprises. Tree House is more of the bar feel with a dance floor but some would say that it is a little smaller then Bar Bar or the other clubs. The advantage that they also have is that it is on the corner of the street and also has an outside area for people that were smokers can enjoy and drink. Owner Brian Hall had a few words about his club, he said “When you walk into Tree House, the customer gets their money worth. Most of the revenue from drinks in my club I think comes from that open container policy.”

Residents that lives in the downtown area witness the next-day filth affect because of the open container policy in the community. The streets of the downtown area, especially during St. Patrick’s Day, are equivalent to a junk yard, but with trash due to all the possible eating utensils and plastic cups that are on the ground.

Nicole Harris grew up in Savannah and currently lives right on the corner of Montgomery and Jefferson Street for three years now. Within those years, she is used to all different types of people coming to visit the city. Harris says, “It is very exciting when I see new faces walking by my window and in their voices I hear happiness and excitement. The downfall of it all though is dealing with the next day issues that people under the influence do like, for example, it may be an amount of trash outside the house that isn’t normal or even puddles of some sort of liquid that is not water.”

Every visitor to Savannah comes to the city with the mindset of exploring something in their interest such as food, historical purposes, or the enjoyment of alcohol with the open container policy. Most of the time these visitors have already been to the city so they know where to go or they request assistance from local tourist company. There are so many companies that tourist can get involved with and gain knowledge about everything in the city. Half of the visitors often are aware of the open container policy because someone had already informed them but then some visitors are clueless to the rule. When the topic was a question for a first time visitor, they would ask themselves if they can and then notice someone walking causally down street.

In the June 1965 article called ‘Alcohol and Culture’ by David B. Mandelbaum spoke about how in many societies there is a drinking behavior that is expected from that culture. It explained that in a complex modern society, made up of many subgroups, the drinking patterns of each subgroup or class may reflect its special characteristics as well as the cultural frame of the whole society. In this intense, the article referring to society can relate to Savannah, Georgia and the drinking patterns are referring to the open container policy.

Alcohol sales downtown also come from students of the local colleges in Savannah. Most of the colleges in the city of Savannah are a dry campuses so that means that students, even those over 21 are not allowed to have alcohol campus, period. Many find the safest way to enjoy the night life and also respect the school’s policy is to drink downtown.

Law enforcement is a main way Savannah makes sure that everyone is in compliance with all the alcohol ordinates. Big festivals such as St. Patrick’s Day, the police make sure they are on top of everything that takes place on the streets.

Captain Joy Gellantly over at the Downtown Savannah Police Precinct, said of St. Patrick’s Day, “My officers really want everyone to have a great time. They don’t want to make arrest or anything negative to take place. I encourage them to encourage everyone downtown to be safe and drink smart. Now, when someone is under the influence and they are be disruptive or could cause harm to the community, that’s when they will intervene.”

Gellantly is fully aware that people just want to have fun while indulging in these activities. Personally, she believes that the open container policy is a great factor to Savannah because of the increase in tax dollars that can eventually help the city potentially. If there wasn’t open container policy implemented in the city, Gellantly still believes that the number of arrest wouldn’t increase or decrease drastically because either way if the person is outside walking drunk disturbing the peace, that person can do the same thing inside a club, and still get arrested.

An article concluded from March-April in 2005 called ‘Illegal Alcohol Sales and Use of Alcohol Control Policies at Community Festivals.’ Within this article they speak about how licensed establishments are illegally selling alcohol to underage individuals. One way they researched how the under age are getting access to the alcohol is by the servers that under aged that are handling the alcohol. Coming from a business owner stand point in Savannah, with having the open container policy that is one factor that can never happen because that can put that business in jeopardy of losing licenses and can potentially make Savannah a non-open container city.

On an average Savannah night, the down town area is very peaceful. On River Street there are many restaurants that appeal to all the visitors that are interested in drinking but they also have sit down restaurants. These restaurants are children friendly and also have ice cream shops available for the children. River Street holds a lot of historical points that attract different people from all over. It sits on the dock of the Savannah River and shares two states, Georgia and South Carolina. The open container policy plays a huge role in this aspect because South Carolina doesn’t have the open container policy so if any wants to enjoy that law, it will only have to be in Savannah.

So, where does Savannah go from here in the future when it comes to the open container policy? The open container policy on alcohol in Savannah has around since the early 1920’s but of course a lot revisions since then have been created to prevent violence and other negative factors such as public drunkenness.

In the future when it comes to the open container policy, they will still continue to be successful to visitors by making a lot of money. Predictions were made that by the year 2020 all clubs or bars will have a cover charge. The reasoning for the cover charge will help make up for that money that was lost from a customer that was able to buy one drink and walk out. Drink sales will increase because of all the people who are visiting Savannah so if all bars are on the same level, the city’s revenue will increase as well. Once the taxes from the drinks are sold, that revenue of tax money goes back to the city of Savannah.

Open container policy on alcohol has been something that has been a part of the Savannah, Georgia’s culture in the downtown area for a very long time. When popular festivals arrive in the city, such as St. Patrick’s Day, the huge trash issues and minor violence crimes are things the city expects every year. Business owners and managers of the establishment’s downtown look forward to new purchases from people so they can leave a last impression on the customer to come back again, and buy another drink.

Police Cars lined up outside the Downtown Police Precinct
The after math of St. Patrick's Day
Captain Joy Gellantly

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