Thursday is opening night in the latest Greater Outer Banks town to create an area where alcoholic drinks can be carried by restaurant patrons while browsing shops and other establishments nearby.
Following more than two months of deliberations, the Edenton Town Council approved in August the establishment of a social district that covers a portion of the historic downtown along the South Broad Street commercial corridor, between Queen Street and the Edenton Bay waterfront.
But it will limited to just certain hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and town leaders have left open the option to shut down the social district if problems develop.
Edenton was the fifth northeastern North Carolina town or county, and one of the smallest municipalities in the entire state, to create a social district.
Part of a package of amendments to many of North Carolina’s Prohibition-era alcohol laws approved by the General Assembly in 2021, social districts allow patrons to carry open cups of alcoholic beverages in designated areas.
Manteo was the first Greater Outer Banks community to approve a social district for their downtown area earlier this year.
Currituck County approved a district in July for the beach off the Corolla Light neighborhood, the first in North Carolina that covers just an oceanfront area.
Washington and Tarboro have also approved social districts for their downtowns, while Elizabeth City leaders are still working on a proposal.
“We are seeking to preserve and enhance economic vitality in our historic downtown core, and the implementation of a social district may be one of the keys in doing so,” said Town Manager Corey Gooden.
“Town staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that all of the right boxes are checked and we are excited to see how this can attract new businesses to the Prettiest Small Town in the South while remaining respectful of local residents,” Gooden said.
Drinks must be purchased at participating restaurants and bars, which sell them in a cup no larger than 16 ounces with a logo designating the district, and no alcohol from sources outside the district can be carried or consumed from an open container in the designated area.
There is an exception to the source of the beverages in the Corolla district, because beachgoers are allowed to bring their own beverages, as those types of open containers are legal along the state’s ocean shoreline known as a “public trust beach”.
Dozens of towns and cities around the state have approved the districts, with many saying they have been a success for businesses and that there has been no increase in alcohol-related violations or public disturbances.
Larger cities with social districts include Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Greenville and Kannapolis among a total of more than 40 local government units across North Carolina that have given their approval.
Participating businesses in Edenton will have cling stickers displayed in their window or on their door. Green stickers represent businesses that can sell alcohol and will participate, under current ABC laws.
Yellow stickers represent businesses that do not sell alcohol but will still welcome patrons in who carry alcohol. Red stickers will represent non-participating businesses.
Containers of alcohol will only be allowed in 16 fluid ounce cups that will be sold by participating businesses who have the proper alcohol permits.
These cups will have the Edenton Social District logo on it, as well as a possible business label. This will help identify littering concerns and enforce any violations of alcohol found outside the district, according to a town news release.
No outside containers of alcohol will be permitted within the Edenton district, and it must be purchased from businesses within the district itself.
The Edenton district will only be allowed to operate from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.
And the Town Council said that if they feel “the social district is not the right fit for Edenton, they reserve full privileges to revoke and suspend such a district at any time.”
The defined area of the social district will be the east and west side of South Broad Street from the intersection of Queen Street to the intersection of Water Street, along with a portion of West Water Street to The Herringbone Restaurant, a portion of East King Street to the intersection with Colonial Avenue, and a portion of West Eden Street.