Last call extension proves complicated, community unsure of outcome

By Emily Hoover |
Illustration by Charis Harper

Downtown St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, welcomes tourists from all over the world on a daily basis. However, when the sun sets and music begins to fill the streets, many tourists, as well as local people, find themselves on St. Augustine Beach or in another county to party.

Waiting until after the holiday season, the City of St. Augustine joined St. John’s County and St. Augustine Beach in their decision to extend last call to 2 a.m. on Feb. 5, Super Bowl weekend. However, because of house parties, bars saw no change that weekend. Some businesses feel that if a change does come, it will need time to manifest.

“Business was about the same last weekend,” Josh Parks, owner of Local Heros Café on Spanish Street, said. “It [any increase in liquor sales] will take a while. I mean it took a while to go into effect.”

In an effort to promote struggling businesses in an ailing economy, cater to a younger community and generate tax revenue for the county, restaurants, if they choose, can have one more hour to conduct business, sell alcohol and lengthen kitchen hours. St. Augustine Beach city commission approved the ordinance unanimously in December, only days after the County commission voted for the extension.

“The discussion began in October,” County commissioner Joseph “Ken” Bryan, who suggested the extension, said before the ordinance was passed. “We conducted a survey for proprietors, about 20 people last year. It had an impact. We felt we had an obligation to represent them for extension.”

The tourist development council conducted a similar survey with parallel results. Bryan said that he also spoke with owners of businesses himself and conducted an additional survey using the St. Johns County phone book.

The new ordinance, Bryan said, will directly benefit local bars with an extra hour for sales and will also give customers a bit more time to “wind down” without a hurried closing time.

“Older people are going to bed early,” Bryan said. “Younger people are hitting the streets late; they like to entertain, to go out a bit later. This [the extension] helps tourists. It helps the need of individuals.”

Instead of hurting local businesses and going to other areas, such as Jacksonville, Bryan said that the extension aims to help the image of St. Augustine. He said that the extension should change the perception, showing the city as a both a business and tourist friendly city.

However, while management at Scarlett O’Hara’s, a popular bar for tourists and students, refused to comment, bartender Jennifer Schwardt, who has been working daytime shifts at Scarlett O’Hara’s for 13 years, expressed concern.

“This will work more on the beach than around here, there they have a row of bars,” Schwardt said. “Maybe the [St. George] Tavern or Tradewinds will see it, but I see people leaving. I don’t want to be open another hour.”

Bryan said that an extra one hundred dollars a night equals five hundred dollars a week for the businesses and also results in substantial tax revenue for the city. He believes that the extension was urgent for economic development and image refinement. In some cases, he said, the extra hour could reduce consumption.

Parks, a St. Augustine native and owner of Local Heros for more than three years, agrees.

“If you’re still paying for drinks at 1:30, then you are so obnoxious that we should not even serve you,” he said. “While it helps them, because they get to hang out a bit longer, by 2 no one is spending any money. They are so intoxicated.”

As opinions differ on the issue, the ordinance is temporary and is up for review in July. If the difference is exponential, Bryan said, the ordinance will become permanent. Despite some opposition, with spring break, race week and bike week coming up, only time will tell.

“It will take a while, because everything takes a while,” Parks said. “They [the city] are on their own time. They care more about parking than last call.”

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