‘Are we about tourism or not?’
~ Frank DeBerry
The 2016 West Virginia Legislature passed, and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin signed into law Senate Bill 298, known as the “Brunch Bill,” with the stipulation that voters be given the opportunity to approve it for their respective county.
The bill will appear on the General Election ballot in Pocahontas County by request from some of the county’s business owners. That “request” was a stipulation, as well. The county commissioners could not put the issue on the ballot of their own accord.
Foxfire Grille owner Kathy Carpenter, along with David and Emily Carte of the Fiddlehead Restaurant appeared before the Pocahontas County Commission at its August 2 meeting asking that the Brunch Bill be put to the voters in the fall election.
President and COO of Snowshoe Mountain Resort Frank DeBerry said this bill is for the benefit of more than the mountain.
“I would hate for this to be seen as an issue that just impacts Snowshoe,” DeBerry said, “because it obviously affects every restaurant and every lodging operation out there. This is a big deal for B&Bs. If you look at who asked the commission to put this on the ballot, it was the businesses around Snowshoe, that aren’t Snowshoe. Those business owners, the employees of those business owners, and the employees of our business owners – everybody is going to benefit.”
Pocahontas Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cara Rose agrees.
“This is an economic bill,” Rose said. “It’s about improving guest services. Tourism drives our economy.”
Rose went on to say that the most important thing for voters to understand is that this bill would simply change the time when light cocktails and light beverages can be served on Sunday in restaurants, wineries, B&Bs – changing the time from 1 p.m. to 10 a.m., the usual time for Sunday brunch.
The bill does not affect the law concerning carry-out from ABC and convenience stores. The 1 p.m. rule will remain in effect for those types of businesses.
From the perspective of the tourism office, visitors want to have Sunday brunch.
“Visitors are used to the opportunity to have Sunday brunch,” Rose said. “We would just be providing an amenity that we currently don’t – one that is provided by other destinations.”
West Virginia University compiled an Economic Impact Study to determine how passage of the Brunch Bill would affect Pocahontas County.
Responses from Pocahontas County restaurant owners suggest that passage of the bill would positively impact local tourism businesses, the workers who depend on these businesses for employment and Pocahontas County economy as a whole.
An independent study by West Virginia University Extension Service, Community Resources and Economic Development, concluded that passage of the local option could stimulate $652,000 in new food and alcohol sales from visitors to the county, plus an additional $191,000 in other economic activity.
That study also predicts that local employees and business proprietors would receive an estimated $294,000 in new earnings, which would include $246,000 for restaurant employees – approximately $580 per worker – as well as local, state and federal governments receiving more than $54,000 in additional tax.
The past several years has seen Pocahontas County move toward a tourism-based economy, which ensures the county’s pristine attributes remain pretty much unchanged by other industries.
For DeBerry, it comes down to one simple question: “Are we about tourism or not?”
“And if we are,” DeBerry said, “we need to make smart tourism decisions.”
Numbers thrown around with regard to the benefit to Snowshoe, and thereby the county, by the passage of the Brunch Bill are in the neighborhood of a half million dollars.
“When you look at the business in our restaurants any other day of the week between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and then you look at the reduced business in our restaurants on Sunday, you can pretty quickly see that it could be a half million dollars in revenue.”
But DeBerry also considers how the bill would affect other county businesses such as DirtBean and the Motor Inn – businesses that can provide a brunch and attract people “for a romantic weekend stay that goes right through Sunday.”
DirtBean owner Kristy Lanier said most of her restaurant traffic comes from bikers and motorcyclists, with a fair amount of skiers who have found her over the years.
“I get people in here on Sundays who want a drink,” Lanier said. “I have turned numerous people away. If the Brunch Bill passes, I would consider changing my policy, and we would begin serving brunch at 11 a.m. I think that is early enough.”
Lanier said her restaurant would offer mimosas, sparkling wine, sparkling apple cider and champagne with brunch.
For now, DirtBean is not open on Sundays in the winter, but Lanier said if the Brunch Bill passed, she would consider being open on Sundays until 2:30 p.m.
“I think it would be nice to do a brunch and have mimosas,” she said
“I’m in support of it [Brunch Bill],” she said. “It may help us, off the mountain, with people staying longer.”
As for the present 1 p.m. law, Lanier said she thinks that is “too late.”
The WVU Economic Impact Study went on to report: “Beyond the economic impacts from increased sales, the local option would generate goodwill among the visitors who contribute significantly to the county’s economy, encouraging them to stay in the county longer and/or return to the county for future vacations…
It would also have a positive impact on workers who depend on hospitality businesses for employment.
The study predicts the annual economic impact from passage of the bill – from direct, indirect and induced effects – to be $843,401.
The leisure and hospitality businesses employ a quarter of the county’s workforce and represent more than a third (35%) of all private employment. The most recent data, from the 2014 Dean-Runyan’s West Virginia Travel Impacts report, estimates that tourism generates $87.9 million in direct spending in the county making it 13th in the state, and generates 1,090 jobs, $25.9 million in earnings, and contributes $1.5 million in local government revenue.
“There are so many people working on tourism now, as a whole, that I hope it will have a good name,” DeBerry said.
The CVB, Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce and several individuals have expressed their support for the passage of the Brunch Bill:
“Tourism is essential for the growth of Pocahontas County. Passing the Brunch Bill means tourists stay in our county longer on Sundays. It means more dollars for local employees and more tax dollars for our county.” ~ Kathy Carpenter, Owner, Foxfire Grille Restaurant.
“The Brunch Bill is a good thing for Pocahontas County. It will increase revenue for local employees, business owners and the county as a whole.” Bill Jordan, President, Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce
“The necessity of providing a full-service product to our guests in this beautiful county puts us on a level playing field with surrounding areas and is crucial to ensuring that we maintain our status as the premier tourist destination in West Virginia.” ~ Mike Holstine, Member of the Pocahontas County Chamber of Commerce
“This bill is about meeting visitor expectations. It is an economic driver for the tourism industry.” ~ Ruth Taylor, Resident of Hillsboro
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at jsgraham@poc ahontastimes.com