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When is it too late? Local debate on bar closing time

April 2, 2013

LAKE PLACID - What difference does an hour or two make? It means revenue for some local businesses in Lake Placid, and now a battle is under way to determine at what early morning hours these businesses - three Lake Placid bars to be exact, one of which is also an eatery - must close. These two hours represent a loss of tens of thousands of dollars in revenue, according to one of the bar owners.

Essex County supervisors will soon be considering whether or not to change the law on how late a bar can stay open - currently the closing time is set at 4 a.m. - after a recent proposal to change the law to 2 a.m. by another township in the county.

"It's definitely going to be a revenue loss for me," Wiseguys Sports Bar and Grill owner Nick Planty told the News in a recent interview. "As far as alcohol sales, I'm more of an early crowd. During the later hours, I'm more of a food establishment. We're the only establishment that serves food at that time. I will lose that revenue."

Article Photos

Nick Planty recently inside the bar and restaurant he owns in Lake Placid — Wiseguys Sports Bar and Grill, which now closes at 3 a.m. daily, and is the only establishment in Lake Placid that serves food in the early-morning hours.

Photo/Richard Rosentreter/Lake Placid News

So far, it appears likely the law will be changed at the county level, although there has only been discussion and no resolution presented.

North Elba Town Supervisor Roby Politi was contacted by the News and said it's a good bet that the law will be passed if presented to the county's leading body.

"I don't think there's anyway to stop it from passing," Politi told the News. "I think that without North Elba weighing in, there are 17 other towns that don't have a problem with the law passing."

Politi said that he told his fellow Essex County supervisors that he was going to wait until he received feedback from the village government before deciding on his vote on the proposed law change. The village had a public meeting on the issue on Monday.

"If the village says that they are against the law ... I will make that my vote and go on the word of my constituents," Politi told the News.

Village board meeting

The village Board of Trustees heard from bar owners and supporters of the change at Monday night's regular meeting. Trustees won't be able to vote on the issue since it's being decided by the Essex County Board of Supervisors.

Village Mayor Craig Randall said he hopes the concerns of bar owners, as well as input from supporters, will be passed on to the county's Public Safety Committee, which will consider a resolution to change the closing time at its April 8 meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. at the old county courthouse in Elizabethtown. To be approved, the resolution must clear both the Public Safety and Ways and Means committees, and then be adopted by the full board.

Planty, who was at the village board meeting, told trustees that the change would impact him financially and would unfairly limit how many hours his staff can work. He asked the board to tell Politi to vote against the proposal.

"It's taking away an hour of our time to do business," Planty said. "We are a tourist destination, internationally and through the states and people in surrounding areas. We do a lot of revenue between 2 and 3 o'clock."

Planty said taking an hour a day away over the course of the week essentially takes away one whole shift from his employees. He said he could lose about $60,000 in revenue over the course of a year because of the change.

Other than the three bars in Lake Placid - Wiseguys, Zig Zags Pub and Roomers Nightclub on Main Street downtown - Planty said he's not aware of any other establishments in the county that would be affected.

Members of the Lake Placid-Wilmington Connecting Youth and Communities Coalition, the Substance Abuse Prevention Team of Essex County and some Essex County supervisors say an earlier closing time would cut down on alcohol-related crimes like drunken driving, disorderly conduct and fighting. But Planty said if there is a crime problem tied to his and other Lake Placid bars, no one has said anything to him about it.

Planty said his staff works hard to limit noise and other disruptions within his bar, but New York state smoking rules have led to large groups of people gathering outside, where bar employees don't have much control.

"I don't think they really thought that out very well," Planty said. "It forces our customers outside."

Dave Sheffield, owner of Zig Zags, agreed.

"The smoking law has caused more noise complaints than we've ever had before," he said. "We have less control over people because they're outside. We can't do anything to them outside - if they're causing trouble or anything, they're in a public place; we have no control. If they're in the bar, we can tell them to stop this or stop that."

Lake Placid impact

In Planty's interview with the News, he discussed how the closing time change would impact Wiseguys and its staff and also the restaurant's role in a tourist destination.

"I'll probably a lose a couple of thousand dollars a week, but probably more during the big weekends like lacrosse, rugby, the horse shows, adult hockey tournament and holiday weekends," Planty said.

Planty said he sells a lot of food during the early-morning hours and his place is the only place in the resort community that does so - the kitchen closes at 2:45 a.m.

James McKenna, president and CEO at the Lake Placid CVB/Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism agreed that Wiseguys serves a need to those who visit the area.

"Some of our taverns offer food and I think that being a resort town people might arrive late and they don't have food available especially at some of our facilities that don't offer food," McKenna told the News. "I would hate to see visitors arrive at midnight and later and not be able to find a place to serve them food, so I think that that's something of importance that we do have that. As far as some of the bars staying open passed 2 a.m. I'm not sure what kind of an impact that would have. I think that everybody has to take responsibility for their own selves."

"People are coming here look to have a good time they are on vacation are looking to come here and have a good time and this will just shorten their experience for them," Planty said.

Lake Placid is the biggest tax generator for the county, and I don't see my taxes going down," Planty told the News. "I'm going to lose revenue and I'm still gong to pay the same amount of property taxes, pay the same amount of sales tax to the state ... this is going to hurt employee's paychecks, their tip money. It really has a trickle down effect, and the economy here in the North Country is hard enough."


Lake Placid police Chief Bill Moore and Essex County Sheriff Richard Cutting have expressed support for the change. Moore said it would cut down on late-night and early-morning crime, and make it easier to police Lake Placid's downtown.

Randall said Monday that there's a significant amount of activity on the streets between 2 and 4 a.m.

"That is one of the more strenuous times of the day that they have to deal with," he said. "I think we keep a strong focus on Main Street because of that. Aside from that, your mayor gets a lot of phone calls concerned with disruptive noise when people want to sleep, Main Street particularly."

The mayor said locals and visitors have also complained about "congregations" of people outside of bars.

CYC is a major supporter of the county's proposal. Board member Mary Dietrich said the organization isn't advocating for prohibition, but a 4 a.m. closing time encourages alcohol use among the community's youth.

"These policies that lead to excessive alcohol consumption do have an impact on our youth, even though they are underage," she said. "It sets a tone. They see adults drinking excessively, and they feel that that's a justification and makes it OK for them."

Dietrich noted that Franklin and Clinton counties have earlier closing times. Clinton's is 2 a.m. while Franklin's is 3 a.m. She also cited a study by the Centers for Disease Control that details the costs of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of workplace productivity and health care expenses.

Chief Moore told the News at the police station recently that he disagrees that the number of noise complaints and alcohol-related incidents will remain the same and just occur at an earlier time.

"A lot of our problems take place between 2 and 5 a.m.," Moore told the News, "and it's a direct result of the bars closing at this time periods. There's nothing else. I think it's absolutely going to cut down on the calls we have in Lake Placid. I honestly think it will cut down on crime and increase the quality of life for residents here."

Double standard for Lake Placid?

After the discussion, Randall said the debate about the closing time for bars speaks to a larger issue that Lake Placid continually wrestles with: It's a community that prides its Olympic past and promotes health and fitness, but also a weekend getaway for people who want to let loose and enjoy themselves.

"The fact of the matter is: We grew up here, and we have a double standard in Lake Placid," he said. "We try to bring our children up to be healthy and have good habits, which doesn't mean you can't have a drink when it's appropriate. But by the same token, they look out the window and they see an audience which is here to party and have a great time."

Randall said that's a difficult dilemma for young people to come to terms with.

"I don't know that we'll ever change that, because that's our economy," he said.

As far as Planty is concerned, the proposal in just another encroachment of government.

"I just think that government's involved with business enough," Planty said in his interview with the News. "I don't think legislation should be dictating hours of operation for small businesses."

Being responsible, and making a living

"We (bars) have be chosen for being held responsible for people drinking and driving and whatever else might happen," Planty told the News. "I don't think you're going to change that by changing the hours - people are still going to drive drunk."

"If you told me 'Nick, we would save lives this year in Essex County,' then there would be no doubt in my mind that I'd agree," he said. "But how am I responsible ... you can't be held responsible for the morals of other people. I'm just trying to run a business. This is how I make a living. I have a family and kids and bills to pay."

Planty added that he doesn't think the law will reduce alcohol-related incidents.

"I don't really see how this is going to change that, all this is going to do is change the time frame on when it's going to happen," he said.

He then took a poke at the some of the towns that are backing the time change.

"All the small rural hamlets ... I'm sure if they'd have the revenue coming in, they'd all stay open," he said. "I guarantee you if they had 50 to 100 people sitting in their establishment, then they'd opt to stay open until 3 or 4."



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