By Cassondra Kirby/Editor
Nearly a year ago, stricter enforcement in regulations from the Alcohol Beverage Control changed the downtown scene in Richmond and Thursday nights for many college students.Almost an hour before opening time, workers and bartenders can be seen preparing M. F. Hooligans bar for another night – cleaning table tops, wiping off the bar and talking loudly to each other over rock music coming from a nearby stereo.
Nothing out of the ordinary.
Bartender Matt Guerrero smiles and leans onto a wooden bartop, a Miller Lite sign glowing on the wall behind him – “I think the whole bar scene has changed,” he said, as matter of factly as the brightly colored pink and green light shades hanging overhead.
Guerrero said the changes came last May when the ABC visited several Richmond bars, whose total sales were more than 50 percent alcohol, and revoked their restaurant drink licenses – forcing the bars to get liquor licenses. Bars with liquor license are unable to admit people under the age of 21 into their establishments, while businesses with restaurant drink licenses are able to admit all ages. Many students at Eastern who traditionally might have spent their evenings on First Street are now left outside the bars.
Although Guerrero and bar owner Kenny Stump said M. F. Hooligans has always been 21- and-older admittance, the business has felt the affects as much as anyone.
“A crowd always draws a crowd,” Stump said.
He said without the under-21 crowd in Richmond, fewer and fewer people began visiting the bars altogether.
Guerrero said there are no longer long lines to get into the bar, and many people are no longer coming from Lexington and dry towns near Richmond to visit M. F. Hooligans and other area bars. Although he said the changes are positive for the community because there are less people drinking and driving and the bars are safer, they are not so good for some businesses.
The impact of enforced age regulations hasn’t just been felt in the bars but has rippled through every part of the community – from Eastern’s campus to the Richmond Police Department.
Since Richmond bars changed their admittance to only 21-and-up, Eastern has seen its drunk-and-disorderly conduct violations and possession-of-alcohol numbers decrease; however, it has also seen a small rise in its being under-the-influence violations.
Kenna Middleton, director of housing at Eastern, said the decrease in drunk and disorderly conduct and possession of alcohol is a result of the bars’ stricter enforcement of the 21-or-older requirement.
“If you have less people that can get in, then there’s less people that have the capability to get something to drink,” Middleton said.
She said she has also noticed how the “party school” reputation Eastern had is not what it once was – instead of heading downtown every Thursday, many students are participating in other alternatives.
Eastern student Robert Champlin is one of those students.
Champlin, 20, said last year he visited downtown often, but because of the stricter guidelines he hardly ever does now – even though there is a couple of places he can still get into, like Hurricanes, whose dance floor is separated from the bar. Since its dance floor is in a sperate building form the bar, underage people are allowed in.
“It’s just way too crowded and it’s the same old people you always see down there,” he said.
Instead of going downtown, he said he normally “just hangs out and plays poker with his friends.”
Champlin also said since bars have become stricter he attends more house parties.
“Before, to be honest with you, if you had someone 21 they could go buy you a drink and bring it back to you at the table and you could drink it there,” he said. “Now, you have to get trashed before you go downtown and before you’re ready to leave your buzz wears off – so, it’s really not worth it.”
Ryan Robinson, a freshman, agreed with Champlin and said he doesn’t go downtown very often either, because he’s not old enough to get into most places.
“If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to go to someone else’s apartment or something,” he said.
Both Robinson and Champlin agree going downtown isn’t very attractive to minors.
Middleton said this could also explain why there was a slight increase in the number of students charged with being under the influence violations.
“(The increase) could be caused from people who are going to some private place to drink and receiving a violation in that transit coming back,” she said.
Along with private places, Middleton said it “wouldn’t surprise me” if more students were drinking in the residence halls since they can’t go downtown, but she hasn’t noticed any increase.
In fact, statistics to date show the number of possession of alcohol down from a similar period last school year.
During a nine month period last school year, 362 people were cited with possession, while only 260 have been cited in the last six months. There still remains three months of reporting.
Richmond Police Chief Robert G. Stephens said he has noticed a lot more block and house parties over the last year.
However, he said a new beer keg identification law should lower the number of house parties because it makes the purchaser responsible for any underage drinking.
The new law requires anyone who purchases a keg of beer to fill out a registration form identifying them as the owner of the keg.
Stephens said he has noticed many more positive effects than negative from the bars getting tougher on age requirements.
“We’ve noticed that we don’t have as much problems downtown with it being 21,” he said. “We don’t have as many young people going into bars, it’s had a big effect.”
In fact, Stephens said DUI and drinking in public violations have decreased since the bars have went 21 and over – the year before the change there were 29 violations and 19 this year, while there were 18 drinking in public violations before the change and 14 after.
Richmond has seen an increase in its alcohol intoxication violations, however, from 802 violations the year before to 900 the year after.
Stephens said this number could have risen because of the increase in house parties.
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