Bar owners oppose earlier closing time

A trio of nightclub owners here believe Pine Bluff Mayor Debe Hollingsworth’s push to have bars and private establishments that serve alcohol close by 1 a.m. could prove harmful to the city as well as to their livelihoods.

“Closing at 1 would cut into our profits,” said Denise Winner, owner of The Pit Stop at 6000 Sheridan Road. “We give our last call at 1:30 right now anyway.”

Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks says that trouble complaints and traffic problems double at the city’s clubs between 2 and 4 a.m., and that a 1 a.m. closing would afford officers better opportunities to focus on neighborhood patrols. Hollingsworth maintains that during her mayoral campaign, she heard “various” concerns about the bars’ late hours and received numerous requests to abbreviate their hours of operation in an effort to help reduce crime.

A Hollingsworth-authored ordinance on the matter has already received two readings and is due for a final reading and vote at the Monday, Aug. 5, city council meeting. The proposal will be discussed in a preceding public safety committee session. Citizens can comment at both.

Winner said she plans to state her opposition, as does Anthony Rodgers, who will open Swan’s Bar and Lounge at 3003 West Pullen Street on Aug. 31.

“I have a Class A state license that says I can serve until 2,” he said. “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 too soon for everyone involved.”

Rodgers, who formerly owned the Black Majik bar at 1111 West Fifth Avenue, said he’s heard earlier-closing proponents say that bars and private clubs don’t create revenue for the city.

“That’s not true,” he said. “We have to buy a city business license every year and pay 5 percent of our monthly liquor sales in taxes to the city. We contribute a lot to the city, and the city would lose a lot if we have to close earlier.”

Buffie Butler, owner of Buffie’s Bar and Grill at 4600 Dollarway Road, believes reduced hours at the establishments “might cause a lot of problems.”

“If we close earlier, people will just go somewhere for house parties, and that will disturb residential neighborhoods,” she said.

Butler and Winner discount notions of increased calls to the police department.

“We have two police officers working security for us on weekends, have for years,” said Butler. “I think if a club has security problems they should be made to pay to have (off-duty) officers there, but don’t take away an hour of business from us.”

“I don’t think we tie up the police anyway,” Winner said. “We don’t have any officers or security guards. I think if we were going to have any trouble it would be earlier, during the evening.”

However, there have been incidents in which patrons have been “attacked” by “non-customers” and some guests’ automobiles have been burglarized on The Pit Stop’s parking lot, she said.

Winner said that during her six years with the club, police have never been requested for a problem inside the facility.

“There are usually plenty of police in the area anyway,” she said. “I think if (bar owners or managers) have problems and have to call the police, they ought to fine us, but not make us close (before 2).”

Butler said she thinks the ordinance is “unfair.”

“I think the mayor is wanting those who are trying to do right to have to pay for those who don’t,” she said. “I think the mayor needs to go after these game rooms around town.

“I would like to talk to her about this,” she continued. “I’ve called the mayor’s office about it but I haven’t heard back.”