Businesses advocate for browsing with beverages

When Norsemen Brewing — a fledgling taproom on North Kansas Avenue — held a pre-opening sampling last December at NOTO Arts Center, it was in the midst of artists and artisans displaying and selling their work.

 

Afterward, Norsemen co-owner Jared Rudy says, a number of the artists said they had seen a healthy boost in sales that evening.

“It’s because people could walk around, have a beer in their hand and look at things,” Rudy says.

He and his co-owners are among proponents of alcohol-related legislation that was sought by Kansas cities including Topeka. The proposal, which passed the House in April and the Senate in May, allows local governments to designate indoor or outdoor drinking zones.

The zones can be set for certain hours or days of the week, allowing patrons to stroll around with beverages they’ve purchased, as long as they don’t take the open containers out of the designated area.

A designated area could include sidewalks, streets and alleys, public and private property.

Rudy and another co-owner, Adam Rosdahl, envisioned the added ambience for NOTO, which attracts big crowds to check out jewelry, paintings and antiques during monthly First Friday art walks. Couples could grab a drink together to enjoy while browsing the shops.

“Stores would probably sell more, too,” Rudy said. “I think the experience would definitely be heightened.”

Norsemen’s owners see the legislation regarding alcohol consumption zones as favoring the cohesive NOTO experience they believe in promoting.

“We don’t want to just corral all the customers in one place,” Rosdahl said. “We want to be a complete community that offers options to everyone — they can enjoy our product while they’re going and looking for something else they might want to purchase.”

The proposal passed the House by a vote of 114 to 11. It drew support from 35 of 40 senators.

The Kansas Licensed Beverage Association and Department of Revenue’s division for alcoholic beverage control had initially raised concerns and requests for clarification regarding liability in cases of violations, but no one testified against the bill.

Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who has served in the Legislature since 2005, has said alcohol consumption zones could benefit the capital city, with potential to increase its draw as an evening destination.

“I think it would start to move us up the food chain,” she said, “where not only people from Topeka would go and spend time downtown, but people from out of town would come in.”

In Kelly’s estimation, the bill gives municipalities “flexibility to decide for themselves what can work in their community.”

Vince Frye, CEO of Downtown Topeka Inc., agrees.

“It goes back to the quality of life issue that we’re starting to focus more and more on in our economic development plans for the future,” Frye said.

Helping restaurants and bars flourish could help entice more businesses to the downtown area, and people to live there, too, he said.

Doug Thomas, co-owner of the three Classic Bean cafes, is another fan of the legislation.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “It’s done in other cities.”

In the past year, the Classic Bean on South Kansas Avenue extended its hours into the evenings and began serving wine and beer. It’s one of the businesses hoping momentum is growing for evening and weekend activities downtown. The idea of allowing patrons to wander with their alcoholic beverages within a select zone holds promise, Thomas thinks.

“We just need people to come explore downtown,” he said.

 

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