Should kids — or anyone under 21 — be prohibited from entering bars where most of the revenue comes from alcohol sales?
State Sen. Tina Maharath, D-Columbus, is sponsoring legislation that would set up just such a ban, although the idea came under sharp criticism Wednesday from local brewery, winery and pub owners and Dayton business leaders who claim it is misguided, unnecessary, difficult to enforce and could put some establishments out of business.
Senate Bill 115 was introduced in March 2019 and received its first hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 21. As proposed, it would prohibit anyone under 21 from entering or being allowed in a restaurant-bar, microbrewery, brewpub, winery or other establishment where alcohol sales exceed 60% of the total gross receipts. Current law allows people under 21 in bars, although they are not permitted to consume alcohol.
Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said the proposed legislation “is an unnecessary extra step that could burden and damage Dayton businesses.”
Gudorf said many small businesses that serve alcohol in Dayton have worked to make their spaces more approachable for family-friendly outings.
“Although alcohol sales might be a part of a business’ bottom line, oftentimes drinks are only a small part of the overall experience and atmosphere that many of Dayton’s local breweries, bars and restaurants are selling to their customers,” she said. “Banning anyone under 21 years old from entering a business at any time of the day is overly restricting and would negatively affect Dayton’s dining and entertainment businesses.”
Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said Ohio has made great strides in becoming more business-friendly. “This bill goes in the opposite direction,” he said. “It would adversely impact local restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. There is no reason why a 20-year-old adult can’t go to a restaurant in the Oregon district and have a sandwich.”
“Talk about a waste of taxpayer resources,” Kershner said. “This is a ridiculous bill that should die quickly in the legislative process.”
Maharath argues in her written testimony that people age 12 to 20 account for 13 percent of all alcohol consumption in the United States and that young people who begin drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who abstain until age 21.
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Dayton-area craft brewery and winery owners say their establishments are not contributing to the problem, but would be severely harmed by the proposed solution.
Neil Chabut, founder of Eudora Brewing Company in Kettering, said his craft brewery-restaurant strictly adheres to age requirements for alcohol consumption, does not advertise to underage people, and follows all other rules set by Ohio Liquor Control.
“We’ve tried hard to make this a family-friendly establishment,” Chabut said. “We get a lot of families, especially on the weekends. We like being family-friendly because it’s good for business, and it creates more of a community atmosphere. Eudora, and many other businesses, would suffer if this ban would go into effect.”
Lisa Wolters, co-founder of Yellow Springs Brewery, said her brewery also takes underage drinking “very seriously, and we do everything in our control to make our environment as safe and wholesome as possible.”
“This is a very important issue to brewery taprooms, because most of us are family-friendly” Wolters said. “It could impact us in a very negative way. It would change our culture, environment and financials tremendously.”
A few miles to the south, Walter Borda, co-founder of Caesar Creek Vineyards east of Xenia, said his winery “is a small, very family-friendly, country-destination place” that has had no problems with underage drinking.
Visitors are encouraged to bring their own food, which attracts families. If children are banned, “many parents would not come,” Borda said.
Donniella Winchell, executive director of the Ohio Wine Producers Association, said most of her members are small wineries that were launched as family projects, often with several generations involved.
“Banning all young people, perhaps even including children in strollers, Senate Bill 115 would be a huge blow to these small, often rural businesses, perhaps even threatening the existence of some of them along with the tourism communities they help support.”
Steve Tieber, owner of the Dublin Pub in Dayton’s Oregon District, said the proposed legislation would have a disproportionate impact on small, locally owned businesses, especially craft breweries and distilleries, as well as on college bars and music venues.
“We already know it is illegal to serve underage persons — now we have to make it illegal for them to walk into an establishment?” Tieber said. “We don’t need to put any more restrictions on locally owned businesses, where laws are already in place to curb underage drinking.”
A spokesman for the Ohio Craft Brewers Association said brewery owners have several questions about the bill, including how the 60% threshold would be calculated. Overall, though, the proposed law “would have a detrimental effect on Ohio’s craft brewing industry,” the spokesman said.
“We will continue to work with Sen. Maharath and her colleagues in the Senate to educate them about how Ohio breweries positively impact their communities,” the craft brewers’ spokesman said.
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