COLUMBIA, SC — City Council on Tuesday rejected a request from the operator of Columbia’s new downtown open-air market for permission to allow his customers to buy and drink beer or wine at the weekly event.
But council authorized the extension of the city’s agreement with Emile DeFelice to the end of the year.
For several months, the city has closed the 1500 block of Main Street most Saturdays for the market in an attempt to attract more people to the city center on weekends.
Most reports indicate the event has been successful. But some Main Street merchants have complained about parking and questioned whether it’s fair to allow one business to have beer and wine in the open when others do not have permits to do that. The market’s current agreement allows for wine tasting, but not purchase or consumption.
“Is this going to open up a can of worms?” asked Councilman Moe Baddourah. Other Main Street events, such as First Thursday, might seek the same privilege.
DeFelice asked in December for permission to allow drinking of wine, especially popular mimosas, by his customers, Robert Anderson, Columbia’s Public Works director, said Tuesday.
Further complicating a decision is that the state alcohol licensing agency limits off-site drinking to no more than twice per year, Anderson said.
DeFelice said he does not understand why off-site drinking is allowed at city festivals such as the Five Points St. Patrick’s Day event and festivals around the Rosewood Drive corridor.
“I don’t see how 30 cultured lawyers drinking mimosas is a problem,” he said before council’s vote. “I don’t get it. The issue for me is parity.”
City law and state law see a clear distinction between a once-a-year event like St. Paddy’s and weekly events like the open-air market.
After the vote, Mayor Steve Benjamin, a market supporter, said council “has no appetite” for allowing walk-around drinking at a recurring event in an area where there are competing businesses.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.