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County sets new time for alcohol sales

County commissioners hope cities with anything other than an 11 a.m. Sunday start time will make theirs conform to the county ordinance.

Published October 8, 2003

CLEARWATER - If you want to have a mimosa at brunch this Sunday, go ahead and order one.

It's legal. The County Commission on Tuesday approved changing the start time for alcohol sales on Sundays to 11 a.m. That means starting this Sunday, residents can purchase alcohol from bars, restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, golf clubs and other establishments at 11 a.m. anywhere in Pinellas County.

"A part of what we're finding with our hospitality industry is the need to change old habits," Commissioner Calvin Harris said. "We're going to take the little steps and move our hospitality industry into the mainstream with other regions in the state."

Pinellas County had not allowed the sale of alcohol before 1 p.m. on Sundays, but recently a few municipalities changed their laws to allow the sale at 11 a.m. Those cities included Madeira Beach, Largo and St. Petersburg. Seminole recently delayed a decision on changing its start time until after the county commissioners approved the ordinance.

The Mayors' Council, made up of leaders from the county's 24 municipalities, agreed to support the 11 a.m. sale time on Oct. 1. But some of the cities had already set their own times. For instance, on Monday, Safety Harbor approved Sunday alcohol sales starting at 10 a.m.

County commissioners are hoping those cities revisit their start times to make them uniform with the county ordinance. A few expressed concern about residents driving from one city to another to buy alcohol if the start times were different.

"If somebody doesn't want to go along, we'll have to deal with that when it happens," Commissioner Susan Latvala said. "Some of them took action because they heard from their constituents that it was something they wanted. I think a county ordinance will be embraced by the cities. I'm very supportive of moving forward with it."

The new start time will definitely make it easier for football fans who want to buy a six-pack of beer before kickoff on Sunday. It also will help people like Eric Arneson, owner of the Rock Waters Grill in Tarpon Springs.

For more than two years, Arneson gave customers a free glass of champagne, a Bloody Mary or a mimosa during the restaurant's 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sunday brunch. But about six months ago, the city told him he couldn't even give away alcohol at his restaurant before 1 p.m.

"We checked with the state and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and we were allowed to do it," Arneson said. "It definitely put a hurting on us."

Allowing the sale of alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays, Arneson said, would not only help his business, it would put his and other restaurants on an even footing with St. Petersburg restaurants, which went to the earlier start time in June.

"Our Sunday brunch is a very big part of our business," he said. "This would help us quite a bit. Just in time for the season."

Don Alvino, manager of Jack Willie's Tiki Bar and Grill in Oldsmar, said the ordinance will help him with his regular football crowd.

"Sometimes the people will start coming in at 12:30 p.m.; they'll be waiting for that beer until 1 p.m.," he said.

- Times staff writer Tom Zucco contributed to this report.

[Last modified October 8, 2003, 02:03:53]

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