Hotel and restaurant group discusses Sunday liquor sales

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

The Darlington County Hospitality Association held its first meeting March 17 at the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce, and representatives from four local hotels and one prospective restaurant traded ideas for ways to increase business in the county’s hospitality industry.

Jessica Cohen, Darlington County Tourism director, opened the meeting with a demonstration of a local tourism app currently under development. Cohen said the app would serve as a flexible, portable, and always up-to-date visitor’s guide with listings of restaurants, accommodations, and activities, all tied into GPS for the traveler’s convenience.

Darlington County Tourism director Jessica Cohen demonstrates a forthcoming app that will help visitors and local businesses stay connected. Photo by Samantha Lyles.

Darlington County Tourism director Jessica Cohen demonstrates a forthcoming app that will help visitors and local businesses stay connected.
Photo by Samantha Lyles.

Cohen said the app would also help keep local businesses in the loop for potential surges in customer volume, like when a pageant ends at 9 pm and the town is suddenly flooded with teen beauty queens and their families looking for someplace to have a late dinner.

“If you don’t know there’s an influx of people coming into town, you can’t adjust and you can’t make money,” said Cohen.

Cohen also brought up a shared interest among restaurateurs, namely the legalization of Sunday alcohol sales in bars and eateries, currently prohibited under South Carolina’s Blue Laws.

Though attendance at this first meeting was sparse, one hotelier – Kanti Patel, general manager of the Fairfield Inn – pointed out that even a small group working as a team could exert influence on Blue Law legislation, especially if the hospitality council ties in with larger advocacy groups.

“A Darlington County Hotel and Restaurant Association could combine with the state Hospitality Association, which will tie in with the American Hotel and Lodging Association,” said Patel, noting that AH&LA is a powerful accommodations and hospitality lobbying organization.

Quinetta Buterbaugh, president of the Greater Hartsville Chamber of Commerce, wondered if those groups would come and lobby on the association’s behalf if it wanted to pursue a Sunday alcohol sales initiative, and Patel confirmed that they would.

Both Patel and Buterbaugh agreed that the wisest course of action would be to pursue legalization at the municipal level first, taking the issue to City Councils rather than trying for a countywide change.

All present seemed to agree that being unable to offer a mixed drink or beer on Sundays had caused consternation among guests and customers, and many of those visitors took their business to Florence as a result.

“Sunday there is nothing open for them, and we are losing income from year to year,” said Patel.

Though Buterbaugh noted that the Hartsville Chamber of Commerce could not officially take a pro or con position on the issue, she suggested that if the association is serious about pursuing Sunday sales, it needs to get the issue on the November voting slate as a public referendum, or the matter will be tabled for another year.

Cohen floated the idea of a Darlington County Restaurant Week where local eateries stage special promotions, try new menu items, and experiment with ways to drum up business.

Patel added a proposal for an ethnic-themed event, an “international festival” with cultural events and cuisines from various countries.

Also in attendance at this meeting were reps from Hampton Inn, Landmark Inn, Mantissa Hotel, and Sweet Jane’s restaurant, which should open this summer on the Darlington Public Square.

The Darlington County Hospitality Association will meet again April 1 at 8 a.m. at the Fairfield Inn in Hartsville. Breakfast will be served, and representatives of all local restaurants and hotels are invited to attend.

Author: Duane Childers

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