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Augusta bar owners report revenue drop since Operation Thunder

Bar owners say road-safety campaign slows sales

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A three-month police initiative aimed, in part, at lowering the number of driving-under-the- influence offenses has had some sobering effects, according to local bar owners.

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Two patrons enjoy a quiet evening at Joe's Underground Cafe. Jeremy LaFontaine, the owner of the Broad Street bar in Augusta, said the Richmond County Sheriff's Office's initiative to make roads safer has caused a 50 percent drop in his revenue.  TODD BENNETT/STAFF
TODD BENNETT/STAFF
Two patrons enjoy a quiet evening at Joe's Underground Cafe. Jeremy LaFontaine, the owner of the Broad Street bar in Augusta, said the Richmond County Sheriff's Office's initiative to make roads safer has caused a 50 percent drop in his revenue.

As the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office enters the final month of Operation Thunder, a 90-day state crackdown on traffic violations, Jeremy LaFontaine attributes a 50 percent revenue decrease at Joe’s Underground Cafe since mid-February, when the operation started, to the increased presence of law enforcement and weekend road blocks.

“We’ve seen a huge drop-off,” said LaFontaine, owner of the bar at 144 Eighth St. “It’s definitely hurt a lot.”

The downtown Augusta business, which he purchased four months ago, has been forced to make cutbacks to compensate for the drop in customers. In an effort to save money, LaFontaine said he has curtailed staff hours, advertising and the number of bands booked at the bar.

“I know what they’re trying to do, and it’s hard to argue,” LaFontaine said of Operation Thunder. “It’s kind of like a double-edge sword. It’s almost in a way like they’re targeting bars.”

The operation has led to 216 DUI arrests, 74 of them from April 25 to 27, said Lt. Lewis Blanchard, of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Community Services Division.

“The main goal is saving lives,” Blanchard said. “We’re not looking to negatively impact any legal business out there.”

Blanchard said the effect felt by those running a nightlife establishment might be an over-estimation. The latest figures given to him by Augusta’s License and Inspection department showed the amount of alcohol excise tax paid to the city by businesses allowing on-premise consumption dropped collectively by just 1 percent for January, February and March from that same time period last year, Blanchard said. Reports for April will not be available until May 20, the deadline for businesses to submit their information.

“It appears that for any business that has had a decrease, it is due to a nearby business that has increased,” he said.

LaFontaine contends that he’s talked to other owners and bartenders downtown who have faced similar hardships.

“There’s no reason people can’t go out, have a few drinks and have a good time, but people really are scared,” he said.

“We’re careful,” he added. “If you can’t tell us what you want then we’re not going to give you something.”

Stillwater Taproom co-owner Matt Flynn said business has been slow the first few months of 2013 when compared to previous years.

“I don’t know if it’s directly attributable to Operation Thunder, but it certainly hasn’t helped things,” he said. “A number of my friends have expressed that they’re not willing to go out until it’s over.”

Some bar owners, including Matthew Widener, have tried to combat the dip in sales by offering free rides home for patrons uncomfortable driving after a night out.

“It’s helped us a little,” said Widener, who owns Surrey Tavern off Highland Avenue.

Widener estimated that his revenues have dropped by about one-third since the crackdown started.

“I understand the reasoning behind it,” he said. “I’m definitely an advocate of not drinking and driving. It’s just unfortunate that it impacts my business.”

For Blanchard, the operation has thus far helped accomplish its goal of making local roadways safer. In 2012, there were four fatalities each month on Richmond County roads. So far this year, there has been on average less than one death reported per month.

With less people willing to risk a DUI or a more tragic outcome, other businesses, such as taxi and tow companies, have boosted their proceeds, Blanchard said.

“A lot more people have made the proper decision, and that’s why the taxis are busier,” he said. “That’s why we see more vehicles left in parking lots at 4 a.m. when we get through with our operations.”

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Riverman1
87489
Points
Riverman1 05/05/13 - 08:37 am
2
0
I'm not sure what to believe

I'm not sure what to believe here. Bar owners would know. Either Operation Thunder is effective and keeping drinking drivers off the road as the bar business decreases or it isn't.

GiantsAllDay
9944
Points
GiantsAllDay 05/05/13 - 09:42 am
2
1
DUI arrests, up Traffic

DUI arrests, up
Traffic deaths, down
Bar revenue, down
taxi revenue, up
This pleases me.

Brad Owens
4748
Points
Brad Owens 05/05/13 - 10:47 am
5
1
DUI's only in this story?

Seems we should look at the overall number of citations issued during Operation Thunder and compare that to the percentage of the DUI's as a part of it.

Also, what is the comparative figures for DUI's in previous years without Operation Thunder verses with it.

Then we should look at things that cause people to not want to venture out, even folks that do not drink and drive might be afraid of getting the Rocky Eades treatment which was to be hauled off to jail for "obstruction" because he refused to roll his window down all the way and didn't allow an unwarranted search of his vehicle. Note he was NOT DUI, had broken NO laws and committed NO crime other than exercising his rights and not submitting to the whims of the State Patrol.

I am all for law and order and safe streets, but personal freedom and liberty trump all that when police do not respect our rights under the Bill of Rights. I am not for unconstitutional actions that take away our 4th Amendment rights and hurt the small business owners in our city.

I am sure there will be further analysis on this operation in the future, until then I will withhold judgement on its effectiveness and value to our city.

Brad

Boudreaux
121
Points
Boudreaux 05/05/13 - 10:53 am
3
1
Taxi service in Augusta is

Taxi service in Augusta is terrible. Last time I tried to get a ride from a bar to our room we called a cab, several times, and after 45 minutes of waiting, gave a cop working security 20 bucks to take us in his personal vehicle. If I don't have a driver I don't go out when in Augusta now, dang being stranded at 1 o'clock, too much crime for me!

Joyce Maurer
9
Points
Joyce Maurer 05/05/13 - 11:37 am
3
1
Giants is Happy?

Why would you be happy that bar revenue is down? They pay taxes too based on their revenue. DUI's were only 13% of the arrests during Operation Rolling Thunder so how much of an effect do you really think it is having other than harassing innocent civilians.

itsanotherday1
45610
Points
itsanotherday1 05/05/13 - 11:43 am
3
0
Ray Charles could have seen

Ray Charles could have seen that coming. I haven't patronized downtown since this baloney started; and won't. I guarantee you there are many others who feel the same way.

Sweet son
10785
Points
Sweet son 05/05/13 - 01:19 pm
2
0
What happened to designated driver?

Or are all these bar types solo drinkers?

Discussionstarter
495
Points
Discussionstarter 05/05/13 - 01:25 pm
4
1
If it hurts bars.... I am okay with that statistic.

One less drunk on the road and the probability increases that one less person will get killed by an intoxicated driver.

rocketserve
280
Points
rocketserve 05/05/13 - 01:42 pm
3
0
Nice
Unpublished

Brad I could not agree with you more.

GiantsAllDay
9944
Points
GiantsAllDay 05/05/13 - 01:43 pm
3
3
A bartender is a drug dealer

A bartender is a drug dealer just like a crack dealer. The difference is that society accepts one and not the other.

Jake
33022
Points
Jake 05/05/13 - 02:22 pm
3
0
Tolerance

Some folks are more tolerant to the effects of alcohol than others are yet they all are judged by the same breath test.

oldredneckman96
5115
Points
oldredneckman96 05/05/13 - 07:08 pm
2
1
DUI
Unpublished

Hope rolling thunder gets all the pot heads off the roads. While they are at it, impound the cars of these bumbs that will not dim thier off road lights. They blind so many drivers, it is impossible to tell how many wrecks they cause.

Young Fred
18262
Points
Young Fred 05/05/13 - 07:20 pm
1
1
A cellphone dealer is a drug

A cellphone dealer is a drug dealer just like a crack dealer. The difference is that society accepts one and not the other.

nocnoc
45425
Points
nocnoc 05/05/13 - 07:35 pm
1
0
OK I have to ask since

OK I have to ask

since Sheriff Roundtree's major political funding came from a BAR OWNER, how long do we now expect Operation Thunder to last?

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 05/06/13 - 10:05 am
2
0
See how easy it is?

Retailers who sell cigs are drug-dealers just like crack dealers. The difference is that society accepts one and not the other.

David Parker
7923
Points
David Parker 05/06/13 - 11:16 am
1
1
I like it.

Farmers who grow corn, which can be processed to corn syrup, which causes obesity when over-consumed are just like crack dealers. The difference is that society accepts one and not the other.

CarlA
114
Points
CarlA 05/06/13 - 12:58 pm
0
0
I'd like to ask Lt Blanchard

I'd like to ask Lt Blanchard if Rolling Thunder operates around The Country Club bar?

Grace422
239
Points
Grace422 05/06/13 - 04:27 pm
0
0
I agree CarlA

I was wondering if the rolling thunder had hurt Mr. Lt. Blanchard's bar business..

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