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Wrightsville gives OK to alcohol on public property

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

Drinking alcohol on Wrightsville borough property used to be a no-no, but with the recent COVID-19 restrictions that prohibit dine-in service at restaurants, the borough decided to loosen the rules.

The borough council voted unanimously earlier this month to temporarily allow patrons to have drinks in the borough's parks and on borough-owned property.

"There’s no reason why a grown adult can’t get a burger, fries and a beer and sit in the park and eat it," said Eric White, borough council president.

The 17th annual Riverfest, sponsored by Rivertownes PA USA and held at the John Wright Restaurant, featured reenacts from Liberty Rifles, music by blue-grass band Dillweed and a reenactment of the burning of the bridge,  Sunday, June 30, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Instead of picking up a take-out order from one of the borough's restaurants and driving home to eat it, patrons can now order beer with their food and eat right away at one of several picnic tables the borough set up in the parks.

And with Gov. Tom Wolf's announcement Tuesday that he planned to sign a bill to allow restaurants with liquor licenses to sell mixed drinks to go, customers won't be limited to beer alone.

"That would be a very big help for a lot of us, just to be able to sell liquor," said Jim Switzenberg, director of operations at John Wright Restaurant in the borough.

Business is down by 75% to 80% compared to the same time last year, Switzenberg said, and he's worried about the long-term ramifications for entrepreneurs.

"My biggest concern isn’t whether I’m going to lose my business through this wave," he said. "My bigger concern is, is it going to happen again?"

The 17th annual Riverfest, sponsored by Rivertownes PA USA and held at the John Wright Restaurant, featured reenacts from Liberty Rifles, music by blue-grass band Dillweed and a reenactment of the burning of the bridge,  Sunday, June 30, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Switzenberg said the borough's decision to loosen some restrictions will help him keep the restaurant open a bit longer under the shutdown orders than he otherwise could.

The idea for dining on borough property came about when Switzenberg realized he was in jeopardy of losing his liquor license if he allowed customers to eat on the lawn of John Wright Restaurant because it was part of the restaurant's property.

White said there was a small borough-owned lane leading to a boat launch right next to the restaurant, and he came up with the idea to set up picnic tables there for patrons to eat and drink.

Wrightsville Borough Administrative Center in Wrightsville, Tuesday, May 19, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

After the borough passed the resolution to allow alcohol on borough property, the owners of Burning Bridge Tavern set up tables along the street, following social distancing guidelines, for customers to enjoy their food and drinks.

And this past weekend, the tavern had live music to entertain guests.

But even with the boost in business over the weekend and the expected uptick in sales of mixed drinks, co-owner Art Mann said the tavern is bringing in less than half of the business it usually does.

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"We’re not trying to make money in this downturn," Mann said. "We’re just trying to make it through."

Two other York County restaurants — Round the Clock Diner locations in Manchester Township and Springettsbury Township — have received formal warning letters from the state Department of Agriculture for opening their dining rooms for dine-in service without the OK from Wolf's administration.

Switzenberg said he's proud of the diners' owners, and that if he weren't in danger of losing his liquor license for it, he would reopen his dining room, too.

White said the open container resolution has been a "tremendous success," and that if things continue to go well and there aren't any significant issues that arise from people having drinks in the parks, the borough council may do away with the alcohol restriction altogether.