Bar, club owners debate setting closing time

Published 12:04 am Thursday, July 14, 2016

NATCHEZ — Local bar and club owners didn’t agree with one of Adams County Sheriff Travis Patten’s suggestions for preventing violence: having a set closing time.

Several Natchez and Adams County bar and club owners met with the Natchez police chief and county sheriff Wednesday in efforts to be proactive in preventing violence at local establishments.

Patten’s first suggestion, installing surveillance cameras, was noted as a good idea for local owners to consider, but set closing times was something Club Paradise owner W.C. Curtis said needed further discussion.

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Adams County Supervisor Calvin Butler said that might be further complicated because the gaming commission sets different rules for the casino, Magnolia Bluffs.

“If we close at 4 a.m., they will just go to the casino to drink,” said Andrew’s Tavern owner Sammy Atkins. “It would put me out of business.”

Atkins said people chose to come to Natchez as a destination town because it’s a place they know they can unwind. After a big wedding, the party can retreat to the bars, which will be open until daylight sometimes, he said.

“If we lose tourism in Natchez, we are finished,” Atkins said. “We are losing everything else, we can’t lose tourism.”

Curtis said this issue came up at an aldermen meeting a while back, but more than 1,000 people signed a petition to quell it.

“Basically, the culture here in Natchez is that people are not out until after midnight,” he said. “We don’t make money until it’s almost daylight.”

Patten asked the group at what point does revenue come before people’s lives. But Police Chief Daniel White responded, “It’s a tourist town. Trying to close at a certain time, we’ve decided to leave it alone.”

White said he rarely gets calls from problems happening at the clubs or bars.

“It is better to be proactive than reactive, but it will take us and the community working together,” White said. “Anytime you have a problem, feel free to call us. If you don’t have security, we will run them off.”

Curtis said most of the bars and clubs have installed no firearms allowed signs, and he suggested all do that so people bringing guns in can be asked to leave.

Curtis also recommended club owners consider hiring off-duty police officers to serve as security and scan people with metal detectors.

“If you don’t agree to be searched, you can’t come in,” he said. “That’s the attitude we all need to have.”

Another suggestion to local owners is posting no loitering signs and helping keep the parking lots clean and free of debris. This includes keeping the lots well lit.

Patten said this is one of the most important things club and bar owners can do.

“You may see us sweeping through parking lots all the time, and we are looking for guns and dope,” he said. “Guns don’t kill people and I believe in the second amendment, but people with guns do kill people.

“When people get in heated arguments while under the influence of alcohol, and a gun is right there and ready, it’s so easy to make a split-section decision that can cost you your life, either through death or being sent to jail.”

Club 601 co-owner Geraldine Minor said she appreciates the sheriff’s office and police department going through the parking lots.

“They are not doing the business any good, just sitting in the parking lot,” she said. “I tell them they are welcome to come in, but not hang around. If they don’t move, I call the police department and they are there as soon as possible.”

Butler said a lot of the problems happen in the parking lots. Most of the fights that happen at or near a club don’t originate there, he said.

“If there is an argument at your place, you can get in and squash it,” he said. “But if someone came into the club already looking for someone or waiting for them outside because of an argument that happened earlier, they’ve already got everything they need.”

Club 601 co-owner George Lee said that brings him to what he thinks is the most important thing club and bar owners need to do, communicate with each other.

“If something happens somewhere else, but they stop it, those two will fight if they see each other again,” he said. “By staying in contact with one another, it gives all of us an opportunity to stop things.”

Atkins said he and Nancy Best with Bowies Tavern are good at this dialogue.

“I’ll tell Nancy there are two young guys heading your way looking to start some trouble,” he said. “We don’t need that kind of business.

“Text me or W.C. and that information can get out faster than if you call.”