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Erie County legislators vote down 2 a.m. bar closing time

Vote comes after residents voice opinions in public hearing

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Erie County is one of few counties in the country where bars serve patrons alcohol until 4 a.m. And despite a proposal for a countywide 2 a.m. closing time and months of discussion and debate, it will remain that way.

On Thursday, Erie County legislators voted down the proposal for Erie County bars to close by 2 a.m. Three voted in favor and seven voted against. Lawmakers like Legislator Ted Morton, R-Cheektowaga, and Erie County Clerk Chris Jacobs have been vocal the past few months for a 2 a.m. closing time by arguing that rolling back the last call time to 2 a.m. would decrease alcohol related incidents such as drunk driving.

Two days before the vote, on Feb. 2, Erie County residents gathered for a public hearing at the Erie County Clerk’s Office in downtown Buffalo to voice their opinions on the proposal. A majority of the speakers at the hearing were in support of the 2 a.m. closing, saying it would improve the quality of life of residents and give Buffalo a better reputation.

Orchard Park Chief of Police Mark Pacholec said very few good things happen after 2 a.m., especially since the majority of DWIs in the county occur between 12 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Pacholec was backed by other speakers, who agreed that the extra two hours only increase the incidences of DWIs, noise complaints, arrests, destruction of property and blood alcohol content (BAC) levels.

John Violanti, a research professor in the School of Public Health and Health Professions, was among those who spoke at the hearing.

Violanti said according to his research on fatigue and alcohol use, the longer one stays awake, the worse their reaction time is. His research suggests that a person awake for 16 hours in a day has the equivalent reaction time to a person with a BAC of 0.05. Violanti recommended closing bars earlier, due to the adverse effects of combining fatigue with excess alcohol consumption.

Still, other residents said bar patrons who do not drink and drive should not be punished for those that do. They argued that instead of closing bars earlier, there should be harsher DWI laws and punishments.

Other speakers at the hearing included those who work second or third shift jobs at bars. Many of them said it would be unfair for bars to close early because it favors those who work first shifts and do not take into account the social lives of those who work late.

Among the speakers was a UB law student who bartends on the side in downtown Buffalo.

“We are busiest from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m. and during this time is when my rent and tuition get paid,” the student said.

He said many students, like him, make their living off of part-time hospitality jobs while at school and closing the bars early could have a major effect on their ability to pay for school and living and grocery expenses.

Other UB students also have an opinion about the closing times. Marah Watson,a senior psychology major, said she agrees that bars should keep their 4 a.m. closing times. If bars close two hours earlier every night a week, Watson said, a lot of business will be lost in drink, food and transportation sales.

Mark Croce, the owner of SkyBar, located downtown, said at the hearing that if the bars close early, it will just drive patrons to Seneca Niagara Casino and no one will go home early.

Kori Hughes is a news staff writer and can be reached at news@ubspectrum.com


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