Bar, club operators oppose mayor’s plan

“I’m not here for a long time,” an old bar saying goes. “I’m here for a good time.”

If Mayor Debe Hollingsworth has her way, Pine Bluff’s late-night bar and private club patrons will have less time, period, with earlier closings. Some of the establishments that would be affected could lose up to four hours of business with a 1 p.m. shutdown, which Hollingsworth is recommending.

Perry Johnson, the 67-year-old owner of the landmark PJ’s Disco at 2411 University Drive, says city council approval of the measure would be “a big mistake.”

“I think it would be a negative move for the mayor and the council,” said Johnson, who has owned and operated PJ’s for the past 35 years. “People here don’t go out until midnight or 1 a.m.

“This is a blue-collar area,” he said. “Happy hour doesn’t work here.”

Johnson thinks Hollingsworth’s reasoning on the matter is “unfair.”

The mayor — and Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks — believe the later such establishments operate past 1 a.m., the more police officers are kept busy with trouble calls and traffic woes at the sites, allowing for more residential and commercial burglaries and the like.

“People try to put a negative image on clubs,” Johnson counters. “There are many, many people who come out just to have a good time. Only 1 percent cause problems. We have a lot of reunion events and have a nice facility to offer for get-togethers. There’s a lot more to PJ’s than just people drinking. We contribute to this city.”

Johnson admits that “some disturbances” have occurred at his club, but he said security is stressed there.

“We pay police officers $25 an hour to help with security,” he said. “Most of our older customers are old-school and have no trouble getting along with the officers, but some of the younger people don’t have respect for authority like the older folk do. That’s another reason we like to have professional, experienced police officers working with us.”

Johnson said preventing instead of reacting to problems is a key aim, even to the point of not allowing women to enter the premises with purses that might be large enough to conceal a weapon.

“Our police officers take extra precaution to stop trouble before it even starts,” he said.

The efforts are working, Johnson insists.

“My hat’s off to our police,” he said. “There are more shootings all over the town instead of at the clubs. We’ve had five or six homicides this year, and none at a club.”

Johnson is also fearful that abbreviated hours could translate into financial miseries for club owners and their employees.

“We’re just making ends meet at PJ’s,” he said. “If we lose time, we’ll lose money.”

Anthony Rodgers, who is planning to open Swan’s Bar and Lounge at 3003 West Pullen Street on Aug. 31, agrees.

“I have a state license that says I can serve until 2,” said Rodgers, who formerly owned the Black Majik Club at 1111 West Fifth Avenue. “An hour of lost sales would make a big difference. I’m not opposed to a 2 a.m. closing, but I think 1 is a little too early.”