ALBEMARLE — A new social district in downtown Albemarle made its debut this past Saturday, allowing visitors to take an alcoholic drink inside a marked cup into other permitted areas authorized by the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
There are currently eight registered businesses that are participating in the social district: Badin Brews, The Boardroom, GloryBeans CoffeeHouse, Armadillo Axe Throwing, Off the Square, The Tomahawk Throwing Range, Five Points Public House, and Uwharrie Brewing (opening soon).
Following the framework set by cities like Charlotte and Kannapolis, Albemarle’s social district will allow people to buy alcoholic beverages from a business and enjoy them outside from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day.
“Social districts are a hot topic in many North Carolina communities,” Joy Almond, director for the Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation and manager of Main Street, said at the Albemarle City Council meeting on June 21. The city council voted 6-1 to approve the social district plans, with the lone nay vote coming from councilwoman Shirley Lowder.
The permitted area spans from the Five Points District to the east to Market Station to the west, along with North Street to the north and South Street to the south. No alcoholic beverages are to be taken inside non-participating establishments in the district, and all alcohol in open containers must be disposed of before exiting the district or entering a vehicle.
Additionally, visitors to the district are not allowed to bring and consume their own alcoholic beverages; all drinks must be purchased in specially labeled cups from establishments located within the district.
The district’s regulations also state that upon leaving an establishment where an alcoholic beverage is purchased, the beverage must be consumed or discarded before entering a different business that serves alcohol.
Last May, the NC General Assembly passed House Bill 781, also known as the “Bring Business Back to Downtown” bill. Social districts were added to the bill with the intent of increasing foot traffic for businesses, who have struggled since the beginning of the COVID pandemic, empowering municipalities to allow people to buy and consume alcohol within a defined area.
This past April, the idea gained preliminary approval from Albemarle council members as city residents gave their opinions on the matter during a public forum.
Almond, Police Chief Jason Bollhorst, and Fire Chief Pierre Brewton were all on hand at the session to address the community. Among a crowd of around 20 people in the city hall, multiple local citizens spoke in favor of the social district idea, while a few spoke against the idea, citing concerns about increased alcohol usage.
City officials noted public feedback from that open session and later finalized the proposed ordinance, budget, district map, and days of the week before the city council voted on the combined package in May; secondary approval at that point was needed from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.’
Those interested in the social district can visit www.albemarlenc.gov/downtownsocialdistrict for more information and maps.