What has happened to the urban village that was Five Points? Not so long ago, it included shops such as Gibson’s, Hiller Hardware, a toy store, a frame shop and more. Today, the balance between bars and retail is far out of whack. The Columbia city code requires drinking places to be at least 400 feet apart, but the Five Points Roost, formerly the Pour House, is next to one bar and across the street from another. The concentration of bars is much too high.
Within Five Points there are 42 licenses for the on-premises consumption of alcohol. The Five Points Merchants Association categorizes 23 as bars, and 18 of them are open all night, under the city ordinance to serve beer and wine (not liquor) after 2 a.m.
As our lawyer Dick Harpootlian correctly points out, there is no such thing as a bar under S.C. law. In South Carolina, liquor may be served in inns (lodging), certain non-profits and businesses that engage “primarily and substantially” in the preparation and serving of meals.
Yet the S.C. Department of Revenue licenses places with no stoves for on-premises consumption. Roost owner Stephen Bland explained at a deposition that 5 percent of its revenue was from the sale of food. In court, that number rose to 8 percent to 10 percent. Pizza is brought in.
Residents in neighborhoods abutting Five Points protested the issuance of licenses to the Roost and another bar run by the same people. Why? Five Points has become what’s called an attractive nuisance — attracting a young college crowd, many underage. Students become the perpetrators of anti-social behavior while intoxicated and simultaneously vulnerable victims to an element preying on them. These problems flow into the neighborhoods. Mayhem works its way up Saluda Avenue, Wheat Street and the streets adjacent to MLK park.
Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook was going to shut down the Pour House last year for being a public nuisance, after it generated hundreds of calls for police services. But owner Wells was able to prevent that by surrendering his business license. Now he and his Massachusetts mother have majority equity interest in Five Points Roost, which is trying to get a permit to operate at the same location. The chickens are coming home to roost.
An owner of the Roost said its capacity is 275, and hundreds wait in line to get in. The owners have another temporary alcohol permit for the Rooftop, at 638 Harden, which has a capacity of 125 and can have as many as 200 people in line on the street waiting to get in. That means these two establishments attract 800 people at a time, and there are 21 more bars in Five Points. Imagine the police presence and city budget necessary to try to keep this in check.
Late-night drinking as the area’s primary activity endangers our students, places undue burdens on law enforcement, diminishes the quality of life for nearby residents and hampers the area’s ability to attract a diverse group of merchants and patrons.
USC report on Five Points
Some in Five Points blame USC, but the university is the economic engine that lifts Columbia, and it is a place for intellectual student development. Five Points entices students. The new bar owners revealed that they have used their Uber account to send more than 200 people. While laudable, we can assume these people over-imbibed. Some no doubt drive cars, and some return to USC on foot. Little wonder that neighbors report numerous intoxicated students in their neighborhoods.
“Time for a Change,” a research paper written by USC instructor and former FBI agent Leslie Wiser, reported that the portion of freshman who said bars are their primary drinking venue rose from 14 percent in 2012 to 29 percent in 2013. Of the 160 USC students interviewed who had been on the USC shuttle, 77 percent reported going to Five Points to drink, and 69 percent reported they were underage. USC has a program to help students avoid risky alcohol decisions, but students are attracted to this incredible concentration of bars. The report notes the association between alcohol outlet density and crime.
The paper found that the portion of USC freshman drinking at bars is triple the average at institutions nationally and double the average of SEC institutions. Last year alone, 260 USC students were transported to the hospital for over-consumption of alcohol, many from “being over-served” in Five Points.
The report concluded: “Late-night drinking as the area’s primary activity endangers our students, places undue burdens on law enforcement, diminishes the quality of life for nearby residents and hampers the area’s ability to attract a diverse group of merchants and patrons.”
Change is long overdue.
Mr. Gottshall is president of the University Hill Neighborhood Association, which is contesting the alcohol permit applications for the Roost and the Rooftop; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.