Thanks to a few drunken meatheads who got all liquored up, picked a stupid fight with the cops, and more or less started a riot last July 4th, booze is now banned on Folly Beach. Within a week after the riot, a 60-day ban was placed on drinking on the beach, and a group of 357 citizens signed a petition urging Folly City Council to put a permanent ban in place. The debate that ensued literally turned neighbor against neighbor in the normally idyllic, laissez-faire community. Someone even "vandalized" one ban proponent's driveway with sidewalk chalk. That's right. Shit got real ugly.
Meanwhile, the Folly residents who had hoped for a popular vote on the ban in the November election felt hoodwinked when City Council voted to make the petition into law, without considering a partial ban or another compromise. A ban opponent group called Voices of Reason soon formed. Its leader: Bert's Market owner Omar Colon.
"The point of our opposition hasn't been so much to say, 'You're going to destroy businesses,' but to say to the City, 'Look, when you have a decision like this, it's your responsibility to assess the economic impact it could have,'" Colon says. He notes that the ban had an immediate impact on sales at Bert's Market. "Businesses out here may lose money when they stay open through the winter. We store up our acorns in the summer."
Those statements are backed up by the City of Folly's own numbers. July-to-November hospitality tax revenues only grew by 3.95 percent in 2012, as opposed to 11.57 percent in 2011 and 9.68 percent in 2010.
Colon worries that the trend will cost the City of Folly Beach money and force Bert's to tighten its belt, so he hasn't backed down from the effort to overturn the booze ban. A petition to revise the law has collected roughly 515 signatures in four months. Their goal is 550, significantly more than the 357 collected by ban fans. Colon's petition calls for a reworked ban that would allow alcohol on the beach all day on weekdays but only after 4 p.m. on weekends, and it would include a total ban on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day when problems have been most common.
The next step is to submit the petition. If enough signatures on the petition are validated to comprise 15 percent of the registered voters on Folly Beach, City Council will have to consider the proposed law. If they opt not to pass it, the proposition will go to a referendum to be voted on by the public. The entire process could take a year or more, meaning that for the summer of 2013, the beach will be entirely dry.
LaJuan Kennedy, a staunch supporter of the ban and the owner of Fred Holland Realty, believes that's a very good thing. "The ban has made residents much happier," she says, citing reductions in traffic, trash, public urination, and vulgar language. "Many people had stopped bringing their children and young teens to the beach. I have heard from many that they can now come back and enjoy the beach with their family."
If the petition is validated, Kennedy agrees that it has a legal right to be heard. It will then be up to Folly's residents to make their wishes known through a vote. Although many pro-ban citizens, including Mayor Tim Goodwin, have publicly tried to urge the community to move on, the debate remains as heated as ever, especially in online forums like the popular Facebook "Follitics" page. Some claim they'll sell their house and move if the "bring-the-drunks-back-to-Folly" petition passes, while the Voices of Reason crowd is concerned that the ban will move Folly a step closer to becoming a resort community that caters only to the rich.
Ultimately, it'll take the sober summer of 2013 to determine whether or not the booze ban has the effect its supporters wanted — reducing rowdy crowds — or if it takes a chunk out of the City of Folly Beach's hospitality tax bottom line.