With beer permits on the line, Knoxville bar owners get ready for enforcement over the weekend

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– Many Knoxville bar and restaurant owners know their beer permits are on the line heading into the weekend after city council passed a resolution to reinforce current beer permit requirements.

On Tuesday, council members passed an emergency ordinance which amended Chapter 4, Article II, Division 2, Section 4-73(c) of the Knoxville City Code.

The ordinance clarifies that “Beer permittees must comply with applicable regulations of the State of Tennessee and any other regulatory authority, including executive orders of the Governor, the Tennessee Pledge, and any orders, resolutions or regulations issued by the Knox County Board of Health, the Knox County Health Director, or the Knox County Health Officer.”

This means beer permits can be suspended or revoked if bars or restaurants don’t follow rules put out by the Board of Health, such as the 11 p.m. curfew.

Joe Smith, owner of The Half Barrel, Bearden Hill Fieldhouse, and Tapped said the pandemic has made life hard for everyone, but he feels his industry is being singled out more than others, and it’s made owning a small business even more difficult.

“My employees’ concern is that this business or the businesses in the area are being singled out,” Smith said.

Not being able to be open for as many hours as usual, and having to close right at their peak business hours, he said it’s employees who feel the brunt of the hardship.

“Their concerns are paying their bills, paying their rent, you know, paying for things that their children need. It seems that they are being asked to make more sacrifices than your average citizen,” Smith said.

Smith said his bars were following the 11 p.m. curfew and every other rule the Board of Health put out, but that changed when he noticed other businesses were staying open later.

He said he noticed other bars started staying open past curfew at the beginning of November.

“If they’re opened and you’re not, then your business is being harmed because your customers are finding a place to go and bringing them back, you know, is a longer term problem,” Smith said.

Smith said he felt the unfairness of enforcement with the threat of taking away beer permits zeroed in at the city limits of Knoxville, but especially at bars near UT’s campus.

“It was an effort to add some leverage (city officials) didn’t have. Now, you know, the county, which we’re all part of the county as well, they’re not enforcing this curfew,” Smith said.

Smith said he has already told his employees they need to continue to follow the 11 p.m. curfew.

“The Knoxville Police Department is commissioned to enforce it and are going to. It’s nothing we’re going to try and snub our noses at. We’ll be closing at 11, or have everyone out of here at 11,” Smith said.

However, several questions come to Smith’s mind about enforcement and the reasons behind it.

How long will the curfew last? Does KPD even have enough officers to check every bar across the city and issue citations? Is the Board of Health checking other type of businesses for compliance?

“Does COVID strike after 11 o’clock,” Smith asked.

On Tuesday, Knoxville Police Chief Eve Thomas said her department only had three inspection officers checking out the bars and restaurants around town.

Again, Smith doesn’t think that sets up fair enforcement.

“I just think that it’s very important that if you’re going to take these measures that you have got to govern it, you know, and enforce it equally across the city. It’s very important,” Smith said.

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