Every Sunday for the past nine years, Nick Petkas has watched at least two or three tables of customers leave his restaurant because they couldn't get a drink with their meal.
But that's not the case anymore.
Sunday marked the first one that restaurants and hotels in Columbia County could serve alcoholic beverages, and while there wasn't a dramatic surge in trade at Mr. Petkas' Athens Restaurant and Taverna on Bobby Jones Expressway, some customers were enjoying beer with their food.
"We have had a few people who have been in and they've had a few beers with their meal, a pitcher or a glass of beer or a glass of wine, but as a whole our business has not showed a major change," said Mr. Petkas.
"I don't think people were standing in line ready to rush into Columbia County to have a drink with their meals, but in time there will probably be a difference because for over nine years, there have been people getting up and walking out because they couldn't," said the restaurateur, who hopes to regain those customers who sought Sunday cocktails in nearby Richmond County.
Columbia County resident John Penrow was enjoying a pitcher of beer with a mid-afternoon meal with his wife Amy and their two daughters.
"When I came in, I wasn't really sure it started today," Mr. Penrow said. "I was hoping it did, and they said it had."
"We would have traveled to Richmond County if he couldn't have had something to drink, but now it's convenient," said Mrs. Penrow.
The Pizza Hut on Washington Road in Columbia County across from Kmart wasn't serving beer or wine Sunday. Shift manager Patrick Gresham said the pizzeria didn't yet have a license to do so.
At the West Lake Country Club, no alcohol was served during the Sunday brunch, but there were some sales to the golfers in the men's locker room, said assistant clubhouse manager Tina Johnson.
"We have a Sunday brunch that we run from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.," she said. "It's more family-oriented, and we have no alcohol sales, and I don't think it will have a great effect on us."
Sunday alcohol sales should bring more business to Columbia County, Mr. Petkas said.
Currently, 22 restaurants can serve alcohol in the county, according to county officials.
Sunday sales proponents - who say prospective restaurants and hotels have previously bypassed the county because of dry Sundays - hope the new law will attract business and boost sales for existing establishments.
Bob Reich, executive director of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, said the new law enables the county to compete with Richmond County for development prospects.
"That part of the ball field has been leveled," he said. "I think (Sunday sales) improves our opportunity for new restaurants."
And while restaurateurs are happy to have one more day to serve cocktails, many figured Sunday sales, approved in last month's general election, wouldn't go into effect until early next year. But last week, Columbia County commissioners approved the ordinance. In a July 1994 referendum, Sunday sales failed by 308 votes.
Ray Wren, owner of the Rack and Grill, said finding someone to work Sundays, a day his restaurant is usually closed, may be difficult on such short notice, but he's going to give it a try.
]Here's a list of the 22 Columbia County restaurants that currently serve alcohol:
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