Our Opinion: Social district can give our downtown businesses a boost
Brie Handgraaf | Times
Wilson City Council members look at stickers and window clings used in other communities’ social districts to designate which businesses sell alcoholic beverages that can be taken into participating shops along with which businesses allow and which ones prohibit the drinks. The council is considering creating a social district within downtown Wilson, but no action was taken during a Thursday work session.
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THUMBS UP to city officials’ pitch for a downtown social district that would encourage bar and restaurant patrons to browse Wilson shops while they enjoy a cold beer or sip a mixed drink.
Downtown Development Director Kimberly Van Dyk presented plans to the Wilson City Council during its Thursday work session. If council members approve, establishments that sell alcoholic beverages could serve drinks in designated plastic carryout cups that patrons can bring into participating businesses.
Van Dyk said a social district would encourage people to explore downtown Wilson on foot, walking from a bar or restaurant to art galleries, boutiques and gift shops. Becoming a place where residents and visitors come for self-guided tours and multi-destination shopping has long been city leaders’ vision for Wilson’s #DowntownTurnaround.
The General Assembly gave social districts the green light last fall, and the “open carry” alcohol policy has been a hit among early adopters, including New Bern, Hickory and Mount Airy.
An opt-in program stressing voluntary participation protects business and consumer choice. Shops within the social district could select a window sticker informing customers that drinks are welcome or are not allowed. Likewise, people who don’t wish to stroll and sip would remain welcome to dine and shop wherever they like without toting the specially designed plastic cups.
Van Dyk said North Carolina cities that have implemented social districts haven’t experienced any major problems, and Chief Planning and Development Officer Rodger Lentz stressed that state laws prohibiting public drunkenness and open containers of alcoholic beverages in cars would remain in force.
A critical mass of foot traffic on downtown sidewalks is what city officials, business owners and residents have wanted to cultivate for many years. We encourage City Council members to approve the social district to give Wilson’s downtown merchants a well-deserved boost.
THUMBS DOWN to the N.C. Department of Commerce’s plans to close Wilson’s NCWorks Career Center this summer as part of an apparent statewide consolidation.
NCWorks facilities used to be called N.C. Employment Security Commission sites, or more colloquially, unemployment offices. Idled workers are often required to use state job search services in order to receive benefits. The state currently has 94 NCWorks centers for its 100 counties. We don’t know how many are on the chopping block, but we know Wilson’s shouldn’t be among them.
Wilson County has the state’s 11th-highest unemployment rate, and in the last decade, top-10 rankings have unfortunately been routine. When a community is home to a high volume of North Carolina taxpayers who need a state government service, taking it away without any justification represents a public policy failure that shouldn’t go unchallenged.
We urge state Sen. Toby Fitch and Rep. Linda Cooper-Suggs to do all they can to reverse the state’s shortsighted decision. This isn’t about calling in favors to bring home a slice of budgetary pork; it’s a simple matter of advocating for their constituents and fighting to keep a vital resource available for those who rely on it.
Wilson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Boyette told the Times he’s working with other stakeholders to offer mobile workforce development services in locations throughout the county. We applaud that effort, but scrambling to replace Wilson’s NCWorks office shouldn’t be necessary. When dealing with state agencies, we look to our legislators to lead.
THUMBS DOWN to Republican U.S. House candidate Sandy Smith’s hyperbolic and unwarranted attack on local news outlets serving the 1st Congressional District.
“Some swamper people are whining saying I don’t talk to the media,” Smith wrote Saturday on her verified Twitter account, @SandySmithNC. “Why would I talk to the communist #FakeNews? They aren’t pro-America. They lie and twist everything patriots say. I would rather talk directly to the people – which is what I am doing on here.”
Smith’s Twitter feed is a monologue, not a dialogue. Hardworking and diligent journalists, including our news staff at The Wilson Times, ask the hard questions politicians might prefer to duck, but our readers — the people she hopes to represent in Congress — deserve answers.
Concerns about bias and sensationalism at the 24-hour cable news networks is one thing, but carelessly casting aspersions on reporters at The Nashville Graphic, the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald, the Henderson Daily Dispatch and The Roanoke Beacon in Plymouth is another.
Not even former Sen. Joseph McCarthy at the height of his paranoia would claim communists have infiltrated eastern North Carolina’s small-town newspapers. Such an obvious dodge says more about Sandy Smith than the interview requests she’s spurned.
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