On Thursday night, Wilmington City Council members passed a resolution asking state-level lawmakers to help Delaware catch up to surrounding areas' hospitality industry standards, while aiding in COVID recovery.
Resolution 22-01 encourages the General Assembly to specifically move legislation forward which would allow Wilmington bars to continue selling alcohol beyond the current 1 a.m. curfew and, instead, match the 2 a.m. curfew in most neighboring states.
"This is long overdue. I know it's been looked at for years, kind of loosening those old blue laws," said Councilman Chris Johnson. "The hospitality industry is...of vital importance for the continued growth of the city. I'm someone who grew up in Philadelphia, and used to 2 a.m...I believe, to continue growing in the city, it's necessary. Even at the beach, when you go down there, places should be open until 2 a.m. It's just the way it is. New Jersey has those laws, as do most places, so I think it's a natural step in the growth of Wilmington, and Delaware in general."
The legislation, sponsored by Councilwoman Zanthia Oliver, ultimately passed with 10 affirmative votes, 3 absent. Councilwoman Maria Cabrera pointed out that, not only is it something already happening in many places, but in addition to positive impacts on COVID recovery efforts, it would likely also positively impact recreational safety.
"We have our neighboring states--Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, we have borders with all of them...We do lose a lot of our people who decide, when they go out, they just want to extend their night and stay out until 2 a.m. And it's not just the young people, some of the older folks as well want to go out and have a good time," she said. "It does bring revenue--by keeping those hours later--into the city, into the state. It does help us keep a viable active audience here. They do business. And they're not just drinking; they're eating, they're spending money. And it's just good to stay closer to home, instead of having to drive out of state to be out an hour longer. So it is good legislation. I do hope that the state takes a look at that. I think we're probably one of the few states who have these hours."
The idea of keeping up with surrounding states was a recurring message, but one that Delaware officials have heard argued before. And while recently Gov. John Carney has shown he doesn't much care what might be an established norm for Delaware's neighbors when it comes to accepted recreational activities--or the economic impacts it could have on the state--some alcohol-related restrictions have managed to see loosening throughout the pandemic, like inclusion with to-go and takeout orders now being permitted.
It's also strictly voluntary, Oliver pointed out. No one would be required to participate or keep their doors open any longer than they desired.
"This is optional. We did have an outstanding torrent of support, but a few [establishments] said 'no,' they were happy to close at 12 o'clock or they were happy to close at 1 a.m.," she said. "This is optional. If you don't want to stay open, if you want to close your regular hours, you can. It just allows the bars or restaurants to stay open."