Local News

Chapel Hill to turn off taps early on Halloween

Posted October 15, 2008 3:08 p.m. EDT
Updated October 16, 2008 12:02 a.m. EDT

— Downtown restaurants and bars will close their doors to new patrons an hour early on Halloween night, and convenience stores will either have to close at 1 a.m. or stop selling alcohol, officials said Wednesday.

The alcohol restrictions, which downtown businesses agreed to enforce, were the latest in a series of moves by Chapel Hill officials to rein in the revelry of the annual Halloween bash along Franklin Street.

Officials already announced that traffic would be diverted away from downtown – parking will be prohibited on several downtown streets as in years past – and that Chapel Hill Transit buses would no longer serve as shuttles to the event from area Park-and-Ride lots.

The moves are designed to keep people from coming into Chapel Hill from other areas to party, officials said.

"It's just like any party," Mayor Kevin Foy said. "If you have a party at your house, you can only accommodate so many people, and it's not rude to say, 'We're sorry, but we're full.' I think that's what we are saying."

Last year, about 82,00 people attended the Halloween event – more than 50 percent larger that Chapel Hill's population of 54,000. The town spent $221,000 to employ 400 law enforcement officers, clean-up crews and emergency medical personnel.

University of North Carolina administrators agreed to ask officials at other college campuses – both within and outside the UNC system – to discourage their students from going to Chapel Hill for Halloween.

In a recent survey, nearly a third of downtown business owners reported a negative impact from the Halloween celebration. Sixty-four percent of merchants also said their businesses were damaged during the revelry.

Alcohol has always been banned from the festival area, but officials said they wanted to limit drinking that night as much as possible.

"Most of the alcohol that's consumed is not purchased in our downtown," Police Chief Brian Curran said.

By closing bars and restaurants early, crowds that will be leaving Franklin Street must also leave the downtown area, Curran said. Franklin Street also will reopen to traffic at midnight to help disperse crowds, officials said.

"There's good news and bad news about Halloween on Franklin Street," he said. "The good news is that the town of Chapel Hill is making changes to reduce the size of the event and make it safer for the local community. The bad news is that, if you're from out of town, you will have a difficult time getting anywhere near Franklin Street. Find somewhere else to celebrate."

In addition to preventing sales after 1 a.m. – normal closing time is 2 a.m. – officials said bars and restaurants would be required to collect a minimum $5 cover charge after 10 p.m. from all patrons not attending a private party.

Town leaders want to brand the Franklin Street celebration "Homegrown Halloween" to emphasize its local nature.