LAKE PLACID - Downtown Lake Placid bar owners say a proposal to move the county-wide closing time from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. would have a negative impact on their businesses.
The village Board of Trustees heard from bar owners and supporters of the change at Monday night's regular meeting. Trustees won't be able to vote on the issue since it's being decided by the Essex County Board of Supervisors, but North Elba town Supervisor Roby Politi has asked the village to give him direction on the matter.
Village Mayor Craig Randall said he hopes the concerns of bar owners, as well as input from supporters, will be passed on to the county's Public Safety Committee, which will consider a resolution to change the closing time at its April 8 meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. at the old county courthouse in Elizabethtown. To be approved, the resolution must clear both the Public Safety and Ways and Means committees, and then be adopted by the full board.
Nick Planty, owner of Wiseguys Sports Bar and Grill, speaks to the Lake Placid village Board of Trustees Monday about an Essex County proposal to change the closing time for bars from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. Planty, as well as Zig Zags Pub owner Dave Sheffield, who is seated wearing the plaid shirt, oppose the change.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Morris)
Bar owners: Say no
Nick Planty, owner of Wiseguys Sports Bar and Grill, told trustees that the change would impact him financially and would unfairly limit how many hours his staff can work. He asked the board to tell Politi to vote against the proposal.
Planty said he found out about the county's resolution through the newspaper. He noted that currently, only three bars in Lake Placid stay open after 2 a.m.: his on School Street, and Zig Zags Pub and Roomers Nightclub on Main Street downtown. Those establishments close at 3 a.m., which was previously the county-mandated closing time until it changed to 4 a.m. in 2006 with little fanfare.
"It's taking away an hour of our time to do business," Planty said. "We are a tourist destination, internationally and through the states and people in surrounding areas. We do a lot of revenue between 2 and 3 o'clock."
Planty said taking an hour a day away over the course of the week essentially takes away one whole shift from his employees. He said he could lose about $60,000 in revenue over the course of a year because of the change.
Other than these three bars in Lake Placid, Planty said he's not aware of any other establishments in the county that would be affected.
Members of the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition, the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County and some Essex County supervisors say an earlier closing time would cut down on alcohol-related crimes like drunken driving, disorderly conduct and fighting. But Planty said if there is a crime problem tied to his and other Lake Placid bars, no one has said anything to him about it.
Planty said his staff works hard to limit noise and other disruptions within his bar, but New York state smoking rules have led to large groups of people gathering outside, where bar employees don't have much control.
"I don't think they really thought that out very well," Planty said. "It forces our customers outside."
Dave Sheffield, owner of Zig Zags, agreed.
"The smoking law has caused more noise complaints than we've ever had before," he said. "We have less control over people because they're outside. We can't do anything to them outside - if they're causing trouble or anything, they're in a public place; we have no control. If they're in the bar, we can tell them to stop this or stop that."
Jim McCulley of Lake Placid said the proposal would have unintended consequences.
"I got a feeling that if you change the drinking time from 3 to 2, what you're going to do is create a bunch of after-hours locations all over town where they'll be drinking heavily - in hotel rooms, the very neighborhoods we're trying to protect," he said. "People will leave here at 1:30 to drive to Saranac Lake because they can drink until 3."
McCulley said he thinks visitors to Lake Placid want more late-night options, not fewer.
"I've talked to each one of these bar owners, and they've never even had a call from the police chief or anyone from the police department here in the past year to talk to them about any issues on the streets with their customers," he said. "I just think it would be wise if we take a step back."
Sheffield added that many of the customers he gets after midnight are from Lake Placid's service industry. He said waiters and waitresses finish work late at night, go home to shower and change, and then go to the bar for a drink.
"They aren't binge drinking," Sheffield said. "They only have two hours to wind down after work with a couple of cocktails. That doesn't have anything to do with binge drinking. If you cut those hours down, now these people are going to have to start binge drinking because they don't have as much time to relax. They're going to start drinking more alcohol in a shorter period of time. It only promotes binge drinking; it doesn't take away the problem."
Lake Placid police Chief Bill Moore and Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting have expressed support for the change. Moore said it would cut down on late-night and early-morning crime, and make it easier to police Lake Placid's downtown.
Randall said Monday that there's a significant amount of activity on the streets between 2 and 4 a.m.
"That is one of the more strenuous times of the day that they have to deal with," he said. "I think we keep a strong focus on Main Street because of that. Aside from that, your mayor gets a lot of phone calls concerned with disruptive noise when people want to sleep, Main Street particularly."
The mayor said locals and visitors have also complained about "congregations" of people outside of bars.
CYC is a major supporter of the county's proposal. Board member Mary Dietrich said the organization isn't advocating for prohibition, but a 4 a.m. closing time encourages alcohol use among the community's youth.
"These policies that lead to excessive alcohol consumption do have an impact on our youth, even though they are underage," she said. "It sets a tone. They see adults drinking excessively, and they feel that that's a justification and makes it OK for them."
Dietrich noted that Franklin and Clinton counties have earlier closing times. Clinton's is 2 a.m. while Franklin's is 3 a.m. She also cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control that details the costs of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of workplace productivity and health care expenses.
Double standard for Lake Placid?
After the discussion, Randall said the debate about the closing time for bars speaks to a larger issue that Lake Placid continually wrestles with: It's a community that prides its Olympic past and promotes health and fitness, but also a weekend getaway for people who want to let loose and enjoy themselves.
"The fact of the matter is: We grew up here, and we have a double standard in Lake Placid," he said. "We try to bring our children up to be healthy and have good habits, which doesn't mean you can't have a drink when it's appropriate. But by the same token, they look out the window and they see an audience which is here to party and have a great time."
Randall said that's a difficult dilemma for young people to come to terms with.
"I don't know that we'll ever change that, because that's our economy," he said.