Port Allen bars want extended Sunday hours

Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER --  Wilson Battley, owner of Ryderz Sports Bar in Port Allen, is considering closing his business after seeing a decline in Sunday sales because East Baton Rouge Parish now allows alcohol sales until midnight on Sundays  Battley is asking the Port Allen City Council to extend Sunday alcohol sale hours so that West Baton Rouge bars can compete with East Baton Rouge bars.
Advocate staff photo by LIBBY ISENHOWER -- Wilson Battley, owner of Ryderz Sports Bar in Port Allen, is considering closing his business after seeing a decline in Sunday sales because East Baton Rouge Parish now allows alcohol sales until midnight on Sundays Battley is asking the Port Allen City Council to extend Sunday alcohol sale hours so that West Baton Rouge bars can compete with East Baton Rouge bars.

PORT ALLEN — Wilson Battley said he intends to sell Ryderz Sports Bar, the business he has owned and operated in Port Allen for three years, because so many of his customers are flocking to bars and lounges in Baton Rouge that stay open two hours later than his on Sunday nights.

The Port Allen bar owner said he made the decision Thursday, the day after he asked the Port Allen City Council to consider amending the city ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m. Sundays. Battley added he has no intention of renewing his Ryderz liquor license, which expires Dec. 31.

Battley said that shutting down Ryderz is the only option he has now that his revenues are declining as a result of the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council’s Oct. 24 decision to allow bars and nightspots in the city-parish to sell alcoholic beverages until midnight every Sunday.

Before the Metro Council relaxed its blue laws, Battley and several other Port Allen bar owners say, their establishments earned the bulk of their profits by serving drinks to their Sunday customers until the 10 p.m. closing time required by Port Allen city ordinance.

Battley said he thinks Port Allen nightspots should now be allowed to keep the same Sunday closing hours as their competitors across the Mississippi River in Baton Rouge.

But in order to do that, Port Allen City Attorney Victor Woods told Battley during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, that changing the ordinance would probably have to be submitted to voters in a citywide election.

Mayor Roger Bergeron said Friday it looks as though there might not be a way for the City Council to address the issue short of putting the question to voters on an election ballot.

“Our hands are basically tied as far as I can see,” Bergeron said. “I don’t know of anything city government can do.”

Port Allen’s ordinance prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages after 10 p.m. Sundays was approved by 60 percent of city voters in the Oct. 22, 2011, election, according to complete and official Secretary of State election results.

The mayor said the municipal primary election of April 6 would be the earliest opportunity the city has available to ask voters to decide whether or not to approve revised Sunday operating hours for bars and lounges.

“If they’re telling me I have to wait six months, they’re killing me,” Battley said. “I showed them what this is doing to my business right now.”

According to sales receipts Battley submitted to the City Council on Wednesday night, Ryderz Sports Bar took in an average of $1,450 each Sunday in sales of alcoholic beverages.

But on Sunday, Oct. 28 — four days after the Baton Rouge Metro Council vote — alcoholic beverage sales at Ryderz dropped to $362, receipts show.

The following Sunday, Battley rang up $557 in alcohol sales, according to receipts.

Manuel Perkins, owner of Roadrunner Bar and Lounge, 909 Court St., Port Allen, said his bar’s Sunday revenue dropped by 50 percent on Nov. 4.

“I’m not going to be able to stay in business either,” Perkins said Thursday. “People are just not going to come over here anymore if we have to shut down at 10 p.m.”

Bergeron said if enough bar owners follow suit in closing down over the Sunday closing time issue, the city’s tax base could be in jeopardy.

However, “there may be some bar owners that are satisfied with the 10 o’clock closing,” Bergeron said.

City Councilman Ralph Bergeron said he has always been a proponent of the 10 p.m. Sunday closing time for Port Allen bars due to the city’s past issues with crime and disturbances related to Sunday bar traffic.

“Yes, it’s our job to help people make a living, but it is also our job to ensure public safety,” the councilman said.

City Councilman Irvrie Johnson said during Wednesday’s council meeting that while East Baton Rouge Parish bars continue to sell alcoholic beverages until midnight, he doubts there will be much “negative influence” crossing the Mississippi River Bridge into West Baton Rouge Parish on Sundays.

Battley and Perkins said they feel city leaders are not being responsive to Port Allen bar operators’ plight.

“We have to go through all these steps to change that law?” Battley asked. The Baton Rouge Metro Council, he added, “proposed it on Wednesday, and the mayor signed off on it that Friday. They actually did the whole process in two days and it’s going to take six months here?”

Woods said previously the Metro Council and Mayor-President Kip Holden were allowed to quickly amend East Baton Rouge Parish’s blue laws under authority of procedures contained in the parish’s home rule charter.

Port Allen Councilman at large R.J. Loupe said he’s hoping City Attorney Woods will be able to find a way within current statutes to allow the council to address the issue of Sunday drinking hours sooner than submitting the issue to voters in the April election.

“We are definitely researching the issue, we’ve got Victor Woods looking into every law that we can,” Loupe said.

“If we can find anything we can do to help these people, he’s going to bring it to the mayor. I want to see them remain open.”