Drinking alcohol at festivals could be limited to beer gardens

The days of walking around the Country Fair or the Polish Town Fair with an open beer in your hand appear to be on the way out — a prospect some aren’t raising a glass to.

The Town Board appears to be on board with a plan that would limit beer sales to closed-space beer gardens at large public festivals, an effort they say would keep young people away from alcohol at the events.

Citing a statistic that 36 percent of Riverhead High School seniors who reported drinking alcohol in the past year said they did so at a public event, Riverhead Community Awareness Program proposed limiting the sale and consumption of alcohol at festivals to a designated area rather than letting people roam around the festival with the drink, as is currently allowed. It was a proposal that seems to have gone over well enough with the board.

“I think the consensus of the board is that, at these events, we’re going to require beer gardens,” Supervisor Sean Walter said at the meeting. It’s already illegal to have an open alcohol container in public, but the town traditionally waives that ban for festivals.

But some have questioned the need for the increased regulation.

“You’re changing the flavor of the festival because anybody that wants to drink alcoholic beverage will have to stay in this corral,” Polish Town Civic Association President Tom Mielnicki. “In the 90 degree weather in August, people want to walk around, and they drink as they walk. You’re changing the whole thing.”

BID management association president Ray Pickersgill said in an interview Monday that he’s still talking to his members about the proposal.

“We’re in favor of whatever we can do to stop kids’ drinking at an early age, but I don’t know that this is the answer,” Mr. Pickersgill said.

The Riverhead Blues Festival had a beer corral in the riverfront parking lot a few years ago, Mr. Pickersgill said, though he recalled that the vendor “closed up early because he didn’t have any customers.”

The Community Awareness Program — whose core mission is “to reduce and prevent alcohol and other substance abuse within the Riverhead schools and community” — also recommended training people who serve alcohol in ways to recognize intoxication, prevent sales to minors and intervene when customers are drunk. Other suggestions included signage designating alcohol-free zones, limiting drink sizes and requiring customers at festivals to wear non-transferable wristbands indicating if they can be served alcohol.

The biggest problem, said Mr. Pickersgill, is people bringing in their own beer and alcohol to festivals. Mr. Pickersgill said he agrees that the people serving beer at festivals should have the training that CAP suggests.

Mary Ellen Ellwood is chair of the Country Fair as well as the past president of Riverhead Rotary, the only permitted beer vendor at the fair. She said its profits from sales at the festival — which extend beyond beer to include soda and water — could be cut in half, to $2,000 to $3,000.

Councilman John Dunleavy said the town required the Manorville Fire Department to confine beer to a beer garden during its carnival last year at EPCAL. The town has to be consistent in making such requirements, he said.

Mr. Walter suggested that there could be more than one beer garden at festivals, suggesting giving preference to local microbreweries like Long Ireland, Crooked Ladder and Moustache.

Another issue the town faces is that some businesses located within festivals have also sold alcohol outdoors at festivals on their property. That would be illegal too, Mr. Walter said.

“It will greatly, negatively affect us,” said Duffy Griffiths, co-owner of Crooked Ladder Brewery on West Main Street. “I would say our sales would probably be less than a normal Sunday. I don’t think we’d be in favor of that.”

Because the Country Fair already takes away most of the parking, Mr. Griffiths estimates that not being able to sell beer in front of their business would hurt them at a time when they would normally benefit.

Ed Tuccio, the owner of Tweed’s Restaurant and Buffalo Bar in downtown Riverhead, has been saying for years that the town already overregulates public festivals.

“They said we couldn’t sell hamburgers, we couldn’t sell hot dogs, we couldn’t sell clam chowder and they said only Rotary can sell beer,” Mr. Tuccio said. “We’re there 365 days a year. We have our own insurance and licenses, we’re responsible. This is the biggest day of the year and they want to limit us?”

Town officials say businesses like Tweed’s can sell alcohol during festivals, but the alcohol cannot be sold or taken outdoors.

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