Curfew is Roy Cooper’s latest move in state’s fight against bars, alcohol

By John Trump

Raleigh, NC – Gov. Roy Cooper — and scores of politicians like them — have since March imposed noxious closures and lockdowns with the altruistic goal of keeping us safe. In reality, these government-imposed suppressions have done little but wreck our mental and physical health and devastate our economy.

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About 100 Triangle restaurants, bars, and similar service businesses have closed since spring, according to one list. Sit back and consider that; then try not to vomit. Try not to think of other businesses — people’s livelihoods — closed and gone forever. A hundred businesses and counting, bleeding jobs, and community money. Wounded souls and broken families. Broken bodies. A microcosm of the searing, ongoing pain.

Since the pandemic began, Cooper has closed schools and businesses, discouraged travel, and encouraged people to work from home. He has mandated masks and has asked local governments to enforce edicts he can’t or won’t.

Cooper on Dec. 14 issued a news release saying he and other state officials wrote local elected politicians “imploring them to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in their communities by considering additional enforcement measures.”

“Now more than ever we need help with enforcement from our local partners to fight this raging pandemic,” Cooper says in the release. “Taking steps now to protect our communities by enforcing safety precautions will help reduce transmission of the virus and save lives.”

No, that’s wrong. Common sense will.

The release continues: “A recent advisory opinion from the N.C. Department of Justice concludes that local governments may unquestionably enforce local ordinances that establish civil penalties for violations of the Governor’s COVID-19 Executive Orders.” 

“We are on a dangerous course,” health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen says. “Everyone — our counties and municipalities, businesses, community organizations, and every North Carolinian — must act to save lives and make sure our hospitals can care for those who need them.”

No argument there. But stop with the lectures. Stop ordering us around.

None of the governor’s suppressive measures, however, is more onerous than a 10 p.m. to 5 p.m. statewide curfew, which became effective Dec. 11. Cooper also tightened a curfew on alcohol sales, pushing it up to 9 p.m. from 11 p.m. for drinking in breweries, bars, or other businesses. A peak time for profits, once upon a time.

The reasons for the crackdown and alcohol rules should be obvious. Bars in North Carolina haven’t opened in any real way since the lockdowns began in March. A historical paradox.

North Carolina’s roots are soaked in moonshine — which spawned NASCAR — and the state is the most prolific brewer in the South. Its wine industry has flourished for decades, and some varietals grown here are as good as any from California or France. That’s my opinion, but I assure you it’s a learned one. Distilleries, thanks to loosened rules and laws, were emerging and flourishing, to the chagrin of many.

Were. I know of several that have closed or are for sale.

North Carolina hates alcohol. Has for some 90 years, even as entrepreneurs worked — and in many ways succeeded —to overcome that ingrained prejudice. The hatred goes back to the late 1930s, when politicians put together a draconian system of local control — i.e. a never-ending infusion of cash — to appease teetotalers and prohibitionists. The state has made progress toward modernizing, particularly over the past 10 years or so, thanks in no small part to people such as former N.C. Rep. Chuck McGrady and organizations such as the John Locke Foundation.

Still, North Carolina hates alcohol, specifically liquor. That the state continues to promote a system tangled up in 170 local boards is evidence of that. As is an archaic state monopoly on purchasing, pricing, storage, and sales. Seeking unique bourbon and Scotch in North Carolina is akin to searching for healthy options at a fast-food drive-thru. You buy what best suits your needs at the moment — if you’re that hungry — or you move on. 

Sometimes, speaking of state liquor stores, there’s an occasional surprise. But it’s typically gone before you see it, if it was even there in the first place.

Bar owners have pushed back against Cooper since spring, taking issue with his penchant for cracking down on already struggling businesses rather than targeting private gatherings. Bar owners, in the pile of lockdown debris, are buried at the rotten bottom.

“This is Governor Cooper and his team picking winners and losers and grinding down small business owners once again,” Zack Medford, founder and president of the N.C. Bar and Tavern Association, told Carolina Journal.

That’s what Cooper does. 

There’s leading with compassion and common sense, and there’s eliciting compliance by force, by the proverbial point of a gun.

Make no mistake, this is the latter. 

Carolina Journal managing editor John Trump is author of Still & Barrel: Craft Spirits in the Old North State.