The more things change, the more they stay the same.
That appears to be the case with the debate over the 2am vs. 4am closing time. Yesterday’s final vote was 7 to 3, in favor of continuing on with the 4am closing time, with Loughran abstaining. Now we can carry on with our regularly scheduled programming.
The following BRO Reader Submission was posted on Thursday, before the voting by Erie County Legislators took place.
4am, 2am, and a Public Hearing at County Hall | An Open Letter to the County Legislature
Yesterday evening, a friend of mine who happens to own a local distillery, and I, a college professor and a hospitality professional who has worked in the restaurant and bar business for 30 years went to Erie County Hall to take part in the public discussion on a measure to move the closing time for bars in the County from 4am to 2am.
I am happy to report that it was great to see so many people, a whole bunch of whom were ordinary citizens, attend the meeting and express their opinions on both sides of the issue. A Democratic Republic can only work well when its sovereign, the citizens, are engaged in the process of governance and last night saw hundreds of people engaged in a respectful discourse in front of the County Legislators who will ultimately decide this issue with a vote.
Some ordinary citizens on both sides of the issue expressed their desire to see the bars continue to stay open until 4am. These included shift workers, hospitality employees who work in the industry to make a living, bar and restaurant owners, some libertarian-minded folks, and some residents of Buffalo’s entertainment districts. There were other ordinary citizens, mostly consisting of residents of downtown condos and larger homes near the entertainment districts of Downtown and Allentown, along with citizens who have had familial tragedies happen due to excessive alcohol consumption and abuse.
The debate was rigorous and, for the most part, informed and it was great to see our democracy in action. The folks on the side opposite to my own (I’m for 4am) seemed to be a bit better organized as their opponents. They spoke in greater numbers (at first) than the pro 4am crowd. But that disparity was made up by rigorous cheering from the gallery every time someone who liked the 4am close finished doing their public duty. All-in-all, this portion of the meeting was excellent.
As the hearing went on, I was dismayed when it seemed that there were many prominent business speakers who had taken a position that was contrary to my own, but which seemed to arise out of a position of profit over jobs and greed over the public good. Most of these folks seemed to be invited by the County Clerk, who has made it his mission – a mission that exists way outside of the boundaries of the office that he was elected to – to roll back the closing time. These speakers were stacked together at the beginning of the meeting in what appeared to be an attempt at making it seem like the proponents of a 2am change vastly outnumber their opponents. It just so happened that the news cameras and reporters were there around that same time to report that position in spite of the majority of spectators who wanted the 4am close to continue.
The stacked deck feel of the meeting was disturbing considering the words uttered by the proponents of this change, considering the positions that they hold within the community. The majority of the folks were millionaire and multi-millionaire developers who have a vested interest which lies in opposition to the majority of working-class folks in WNY. I watched as one developer, a self-proclaimed libertarian (who believes that if we do not allow citizens to own fully armed tanks, that we are violating the Second Amendment) call for a law that would restrict the rights of our citizens en masse. This man also made it seem that a heroin fairy appears at 2:01 am and gives out free opioids to the public at drinking establishments between the hours of 2am and 4am.
I watched as another millionaire developer said that he used to spend sleepless night after sleepless night waiting for his kids to get home so the law should be changed so parents would no longer have to do this horrible thing.
I watched yet another wealthy developer and restaurant owner say that he would be the first to be hurt financially by the change but that the Legislature should change it anyway even though all of the establishments that he operates only stay open past 2am about 3 days per year.
I watched as a minor developer and bar owner had a statement read which said that his bar customers – all of his places already close at 2am – do not do anything bad and that only the bar customers who are out after 2am cause any trouble at all.
Finally, I watched as the County Clerk, whose family business serves millions of drinks weekly at sporting events around the country (there are actual statistics that show that DWI’s and drunken disorderly arrests go up in an exponential magnitude when people leave stadiums and concert halls where they have bought drinks from this family business) moralize about the costs that are put upon the community by a 4am close. In short, this was well-organized hogwash that was put out there before news cameras to obfuscate the real reason why these so-called pillars of the community want this law to change. Instead of worrying about the times that bars close, he should be streamlining the DMV and making it easier to file property liens. Instead, developers want to line their pockets with condo sales or they want to use the law to eliminate competition and labor costs that come from keeping the current closing time at 4am.
The world will not end if we keep the closing time at 4am in Erie County. The world will also not end if we move the closing time to 2am. What will end is a few thousand well-paying jobs in the hospitality industry that will be eliminated by this change. How does two hours cost that many jobs (or save that much labor cost)? The establishments that currently stay open until 4am run 3 shifts per day and if the closing time were drawn back that would drop to 2 shifts per day. This means that 1/3 of the shifts would be eliminated the day that this law went into effect. A County that has had many challenges with employment over that last 45 years can’t afford to eliminate 1/3 of the jobs in an industry that supports so many people and which, in turn, supports so many other businesses as well.
Western New York is a unique community. Our 4am close is one of the things that sets us apart from the strip-mall infused wasteland that so many growing areas of the country have morphed into. Let’s not do something rash so a few already wealthy people can get wealthier at the cost of jobs and the essential character of our region. Keep the close at 4am!
Sincerely, Roy W. Bakos
Adjunct English Professor/Hospitality Professional