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'Outdoor refreshment' bill could allow you to walk around town with beer from different breweries

Posted at 6:00 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 18:05:48-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- If you’re curious about how to pronounce beer names or which style fits best during a pending ice storm, Joe Sullivan, owner of Ardent Brewery in the Scott's Addition neighborhood, said their spot has you covered.

“Rye stout. That’s 10 percent. It’ll keep you warm in the cold weather,” Sullivan suggested while looking at their draft list.

Sullivan said he’s curious to see what develops after the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that would allow “outdoor refreshment areas.”

Under the bill, cities and counties would be allowed to establish districts where customers could buy an alcoholic beverage at one store and drink it while walking and shopping at other stores within the district.

“I think as time has gone by, we’ve realized people have an appetite for this now. We all like being outside,” Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), who carried the Senate version of the bill, said. “[Localities] would be able to set up these licenses in areas where maybe there is a coalition of a bunch of different restaurants and bars and just a real thriving area, but they would be able to use the outdoor area between all those businesses.”

Senate Bill 1471 cleared both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. Dunnavant said it heads to Governor’s Office for review.

The idea, Dunnavant said, was born out COVID-related ABC regulation changes that most businesses welcomed and the need to help locally-owned restaurants and venues recover revenue following a year of closures and restrictions. Locally, she said places like Short Pump and Willow Lawn have expressed interest in the idea, and others have mentioned Scott’s Addition as a possibility.

Cities and counties that apply for long-term outdoor refreshment area licenses would have to establish rules of the road through local ordinances.

“That’s why it’s great, it’s an ordinance process because ordinance processes require interaction and public comment,” Dunnavant said.

Sullivan said he sees the bill as promising for small towns or communities looking to reignite tourism through weekend festivals or other events. However, he has reservations about how an outdoor refreshment area would play out in an urban setting like Scott’s Addition.

“Our business model about creating an experience here in our own taproom and a connection with the brewery and the beer we make here. So, just selling beer to-go so that people can ramble around the neighborhood doesn’t necessarily help our bottom line,” Sullivan said. “There might be a way in some areas to do it make sure everyone benefits, and the city is happy, the residents are happy. It just depends on the open conversation and ultimately what the final rules are.”

That conversation, Sullivan said, would have to include a robust dialogue about liability for businesses, sanitation concerns, and potential public safety issues. The proposal is another example, he said, of one refreshing shift for the brewery and hospitality industry in Virginia.

“I really do appreciate the ABC doing everything they can for their licensees to make sure we’re surviving the pandemic. So yeah, I’m interested to see this conversation continue,” Sullivan said.

The bill has not yet been officially communicated to the Governor’s Office, but Dunnavant said she expected that would happen soon.

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