The Library, a popular bar on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, announced on social media it will replace its cover charge with a $25 membership application fee. College students didn’t react to the news well on Twitter.
The application asks for basic information such as name, address and contact information. It also asks anyone interested in being a member to list their place of employment. There is a separate section for students who may not be employed.
In its announcement last week, The Library stated applicants will need to submit either a W2 tax form or pay stub as proof of employment. Everyone will also undergo a background check, according to the announcement.
Under state law, businesses with a private-club permit must operate on a members-only basis.
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As for the reasoning behind the change in policy, Stephen Saez, a co-owner of the bar, said it’s a preventative safety measure due to an increase in violence.
“I don’t want anybody to get hurt. This is 100 percent for the safety of everybody involved,” Saez said. “This was the most effective way to create a safe environment by controlling the crowd by selecting who can and can’t get into the place.”
Another reason for the change, according to Saez, is because The Library “got a little bit of pressure from the town of Chapel Hill and the police department.”
“We have fights breaking out on the streets on Franklin Street and it creates pressure on the police,” Saez said.
Many Twitter users identifying themselves as UNC-Chapel Hill students or alumni stated the change in policy targets students or African-Americans who frequent the bar. Some accused the bar of gentrifying.
Saez says that is not the case.
“I would actually say the main demographic of the people that come here are black and Latin,” said Saez. “I’m not trying to prevent anyone from coming here based on race.”
Andre Coaxum, a recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, is one of the critics.
“I think it’s trash because I think it targets certain people, more specifically college students and other people of the town of Chapel Hill,” Coaxum said in an interview. “I feel like he’s targeting minorities.”
Coaxum said The Library was one of the few places he went to on Franklin Street as a student with his friends.
Jamari Cortez, a rising senior at UNC-Chapel Hill, predicted the membership fee and process could backfire on The Library.
“I feel like the new policies are very exclusionary and are targeted towards college students, but more explicitly the minority population,” Cortez said. “Although I am unaware of the reasoning behind the implementation of the new policies, I know that these new regulations will drastically decrease the attendance of those populations.”
Erika Wilson, a UNC School of Law professor, says it’s legal for The Library to ask for a W2 or pay stub.
“North Carolina has this really unusual law about places that serve alcohol,” Wilson said. “It can’t be like a bar. Oftentimes you see an establishment moving to a private membership model to comply with the law.”
The Library is not the only place on Franklin Street that charges a membership fee. The Crunkleton has a variety of levels; the cheapest is $5 and the most expensive is $150. The Dead Mule offers memberships for $10 a person, or $15 for two people. The Baxter is an arcade bar and has a $1 membership.
Wilson said some places in downtown Raleigh charge $1 for membership in order to have a broad consumer base.
She said the policy change at The Library is in line with stories of gentrification from across the country.
“Maybe just even by imposing the $25 fee, then you are going to disincentivize black and Latino patrons from even visiting the establishment, but it’s hard to say without direct evidence,” Wilson said. “It’s consistent with what we see in Chapel Hill, Durham and other parts of the country.”
Since 2016, there have been 56 calls made to police from The Library. Of those calls, seven were for assault reports and four were for fights, according to data provided by Chapel Hill police.
Many businesses have asked the police how they can improve the safety of their establishments, public safety spokesman Ran Northam said. The main concern is about the sidewalks.
“The sidewalk just doesn’t have a ton of space. Officers have shared some recommendations on where they can line their people up so the space can be used a little bit better, such as with rope,” Northam said.
The Library uses a red velvet rope to prevent the line to get into the bar from spilling over. Northam said the owners of The Library have requested the presence of off-duty police officers to help with crowds. This is something the police have done for the bar, but it is strictly an on-demand request.
Northam also said police have not mandated The Library change its policy, but they’ve provided safety suggestions. Suggestions are given to all the businesses in Chapel Hill, and to anyone else who asks for it.