Bar owners oppose closing-time rule

AIKEN --- Several Aiken County bar owners told county council members Tuesday night they are against a proposed change that would require them to close at 2 a.m., arguing it would harm their business.

"Hold individual bar owners responsible," said Michelle Shackford, the owner of Hozes, a private club in Clearwater. "Don't make me responsible for other bar owners."

Despite the pleas from such businesses, the council voted in favor of a second reading of the ordinance change Tuesday night, leaving only a third and final reading for approval at the council's next meeting in March.

In response to shootings at bars in Aiken County in the past three months, Sheriff Michael Hunt approached the council last month requesting the change to require businesses serving alcohol to close at 2 a.m. Private clubs in the county have to stop selling liquor at 2 a.m., but they can continue to sell beer and wine.

Pete Gonshorowski, the owner of Palmetto Tavern, told council members Tuesday night he bought the bar about a month ago and if the new closing times are approved, it would hurt his business.

"We've sunk everything we had in this convenience store and bar," he said. "I'm sympathetic with the sheriff, but I think there's more than one solution."

Sheriff Hunt told the council he didn't request the ordinance change to put people out of business, but "... to be consistent with other governing bodies and to be proactive."

Aiken, North Augusta, Richmond and Columbia counties all have ordinances requiring bars to close at 2 a.m. Sheriff Hunt said that because bars in Aiken County stay open past 2 a.m., he has to deal with the overflow from establishments in other jurisdictions.

Although voting for the second reading, some members said they had mixed feelings about the change.

"I don't believe in government being involved more than necessary in business, but this is a safety issue," Councilwoman Kathy Rawls said. "I hate to see everybody punished for a few."

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com