Buoyed by downtown Clayton’s campaign to become a nightlife destination, an advisory group is recommending the town hold a referendum on opening up the town’s beer laws.
Clayton hasn’t held a referendum on alcohol sales since 1997, when voters approved on-site sales of beer only in restaurants with mixed-drink permits. The distinction means that wine shops that serve wine by the glass can’t also sell a pint of draft beer. That same year, Johnston County held a countywide referendum in which voters approved mixed-drink sales but denied off-premises beer sales, though deputy town manager Nancy Medlin noted that both measures passed in Clayton precincts.
In January, James Lipscomb asked the council to revisit Clayton’s alcohol laws for the first time in nearly two decades, citing Clayton’s growing scene of downtown drinking establishments. The council then appointed an advisory group to explore the matter.
Medlin said she was unaware of any zoning or law enforcement restrictions that would keep Clayton from relaxing its beer laws.
“If we choose to request a referendum, it’s very simple,” Medlin said. “The council has to submit a written request to the Johnston County Board of Elections. The cost is very minimal if it’s held with another election, which would be the November time frame; it’s about $500.”
Clayton is young and growing younger as families leave Wake County seeking a different pace of life and space to raise children. These younger generations have come of age with the nation’s love affair with craft beer, embracing local breweries and fostering a bonafide beer culture. These days, one is more likely to see a stroller at a brewery than a moment of bad behavior.
In addition to Medlin, the advisory board is made up of councilman and downtown restaurant owner Michael Grannis, Police Chief R.W. Bridges, town planner Haley Hogg and business owner Ruth Anderson.
Anderson said downtown Clayton has an opportunity to make a name for itself, and quality drinks are a part of that, she said.
“I think we’re on the cusp of developing into a destination,” Anderson said. “This is the final closing of the loop of what this downtown can really develop into. ... If we can get them here, we can keep them here. And part of keeping them here is giving them something to do while they’re here.”
Deep River Brewing and Wine on Main anchor opposite ends of downtown. Meanwhile, the council has set a public hearing on a proposed cocktail bar on Main Street, and the Flipside Restaurant & Pub is turning the former Coffee Mill space into an all-North Carolina taproom, slated to open this week. These and a few other alcohol-serving restaurants around town make Clayton one of the easiest places to find a drink in Johnston County. Coupled with an active arts community, Anderson said this is an asset.
“You hear of a lot of towns, our size or bigger, who are struggling to get people downtown,” Anderson said. “It’s dying; it’s moving out. Here we have a huge opportunity to build on that, to keep the momentum going, to keep downtown growing and vibrant.”
Clayton has some of the most restrictive alcohol laws in Johnston County, and Medlin said she saw value in gaining equal footing.
“The hospitality industry has changed,” Medlin said. “We looked at how this would support an evolution (of Clayton’s downtown) and how it would support economic development.”
The council will consider taking action during its May 2 meeting.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson