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Legislature looks to loosen alcohol regulations at NC malls

A bill in the state legislature would establish an ABC permit available to shopping malls across the state for common entertainment areas of the mall.

The permit would allow standalone restaurants at malls — like a Cheesecake Factory — to sell alcohol during special events at the mall as long as they have an active alcohol permit and follow certain regulations from the ABC Commission.

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, said Senate Bill 344 was a request from The Streets at Southpoint in Durham, which holds events throughout the year and would like the ability to have its standalone restaurants make a buck off of the events. Currently beer is being served at these events from mobile beer taps such as a Bud Light truck, but the restaurants at the mall are prohibited from selling alcohol outside their doors.

Senate committees approved the bill Thursday and Friday, and the bill now moves to a third committee.

In the Senate’s commerce committee, Woodard’s Democratic colleague Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, said he’d support the bill if it was a local bill, because he didn’t want his local mall to be included. “If it’s going to stay in Durham, I’m good,” Lowe said.

The bill, however, is a statewide bill, so all malls would be able to apply for the permit.

Sen. Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland, also raised concerns. “I appreciate the fact that the authors have written a lot of controls into this thing,” he said. “It just seems like we’re continuing to push the envelope with a lot of the alcohol bills here. It just seems like there are fewer and fewer places where families can go that there is just alcohol-free.”

After Lowe compared the bill to New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, Woodard said it was not his intent to turn the malls into Bourbon Street.

“These events at these malls have been held regularly for years. Alcohol sales go on there now,” Woodard said, but the restaurants at the mall could not participate in the sales under current law. “This is just a good business bill for the tenants in the mall, for the restaurants that are there 365 days a year.”

A voice vote on the bill was divided, with seemingly more “no” votes than “aye” votes, but Chairman Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, ruled in favor of supporters and moved the bill forward. There are no recorded or roll call votes in state Senate committees.

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