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Businesses fear cost of county football game booze ban

Alcohol Banned at "Frat Beach" on Nov. 6 and 7
Alcohol Banned at "Frat Beach" on Nov. 6 and 7

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Business owners in coastal Georgia say they fear the revenue impact of an alcohol ban on the weekend of the Florida-Georgia college football game in nearby Jacksonville.

Glynn County commissioners on Thursday banned alcohol on the beaches of St. Simons Island on Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, saying they were worried in part about COVID-19 transmission. Some commissioners have long disdained the party scene dubbed “frat beach” that overtakes parts of the resort island on that weekend.

Heather Hardman told The Brunswick News that her restaurant, Beachcomber BBQ & Grill, could lose a third of its normal business that weekend.

“It will definitely affect our bottom line, but sometimes you’ve got to think about more than your bottom line,” Hardman said.

A blanket ban on alcohol might deter some of the disruptive elements, Hardman said, but she doubts it will stop the college crowd from imbibing on the beach. It’s unclear how the county will enforce the ban.

Police officers could likely clear out much of the crowd by aggressively enforcing underage drinking, public intoxication and open container laws, Glynn County Police Chief Jay Wiggins told the commission Thursday night. The department usually lets many of those violations slide to avoid tying up officers and overcrowding the jail for minor infractions, he said.

Package store owner Kristine Zeh said the weekend is usually the busiest of the year for her. She’s been limiting customers to drive-through only to restrict COVID-19 transmission, but now is considering buying less stock.

“This is one of the weekends that the island looks forward to,” Zeh said. “It provides money and allows us to see through to the rest of the year, to the next holiday.”

Benji Bennett said he’s not very worried about the impact on his short-term rental company, saying Georgia Beach Rentals has refused to rent to people younger than 35 for years. But he said the ban is also likely to make the weekend less enjoyable for older visitors.

He said it would it be more effective for county police officers to crack down on illegal activity.

“I was a college student once, and we drank,” Bennett said. “Can kids get a little out of hand here? Sure. But if it was patrolled right and the county funded the police enough, I don’t think you’d have any issues. I don’t think the kids are coming down here worried about getting arrested.”

Georgia’s public health department has reported more than 322,000 cases of COVID-19 and at least 7,13494 virus-related deaths in the state, while Florida health officials have reported more than 714,000 cases and at least 14,803 deaths among Florida residents.