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Bar closing time petition circulates

NATCHEZ — At least 1,200 to 1,400 people — both of local and tourist allegiance — were willing to give their signature as proof that they do not support the adoption of a city ordinance that would close bars at 2 a.m.

A petition initiated by Andrew’s Tavern, The Corner Bar, Dimples Lounge and The Under-the-Hill Saloon has been circulating for the past 10 days, Andrew’s owner Sammy Atkins said Friday.

Atkins said he expected the list to grow to between 2,000 and 3,000 names come Monday, when the Natchez Board of Aldermen will discuss the issue in a work session starting at 4 p.m.

The Natchez-Adams Chamber of Commerce sent an e-mail to its members indicating 2 a.m. bar closings will be discussed at Monday’s meeting and that members may e-mail or voice their concerns to aldermen.

Atkins said he will attend Monday’s work session and is on the agenda to speak at Tuesday’s regular board meeting.

“(Closing bars) is unfair to citizens and tourism as whole,” Atkins said.

Atkins said closing bars early would cause the loss of several thousands of dollars and likely force some businesses to fold.

Atkins said he suspects most of the aldermen are unfamiliar with life in the shoes of a service industry worker and all that service industry employees do for Natchez.

“It is unfair to punish those employees who work hard to make the city prosper because of the actions of a few,” Atkins said.

Atkins said the ordinance would affect the tourism industry, despite city leaders’ comments at last Tuesday’s meeting that it would not.

Tourists and people planning destination weddings might choose to forgo coming to Natchez if they hear that the town’s laws have grown stricter, Atkins said.

Under-the-Hill Saloon owner Andre Farish Jr. said the option to stay out late is in line with the way Natchez is sometimes marketed.

“We’re established as a resort town, and we get a lot of visits with the understanding that (Natchez) is kind of a little New Orleans,” Farish said.

The city has threatened to close bars at 2 a.m. in the past, Farish said. He said the issue is brought to the table every three or four years, “whenever somebody does something stupid.”

Farish said if problems arise at his bar, which does not often happen, the problems do not occur within a certain timeframe after 2 a.m.

“(Closing bars early) is just not a good idea,” he said, and occasional disturbances are inevitable.

“There are crazy people; I don’t know what you can do about that,” Farish said.

Atkins said if bars lose money or go under, the city loses tax money.

“Beer barns” would likely pop up outside the city limits if an ordinance passes, Atkins said.

He said beer barns would be even more difficult to control and that it is fairly easy to acquire a beer license.

On the other hand, Atkins said bar owners in Natchez must take strict inventories of products and pass a financial and legal background check every year to renew their liquor licenses from the Alcohol Beverage Control board.

“The (business) integrity of every bar owner that has an ABC license (ensures they) are at the top of the food chain,” Atkins said.

“Getting a house loan is a piece of cake compared to an ABC license.”

Atkins agreed with comments from aldermen that bars should provide more security however, he said the Natchez Police Department should better enforce laws at the bar scene to deliver consequences to the “1 percent” of the troublemakers and fighters. Doing so would help prevent future disturbances, Atkins said.

Mayor Jake Middleton said he is not sure how the aldermen will vote Tuesday, or if they will take any action on the early bar closure ordinance this week at all.

“On Tuesday, we’re going to look at some options,” Middleton said.

Other items on Monday’s work session agenda include:

4 North Natchez Drainage Project.

4 A special exception ordinance allowing for manufactured homes to be used for security purposes at Northgate Shopping Center.

4Brumfield School Apartment ownership and tenet issues.

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