The issue of whether to roll back the bar closing time from 4 a. m. to 2 a. m. in Erie County is certainly a hot-button item right now.

The idea is a bad one – or, at best, hastily conceived.

Forget that this is a perfect example of an attempt by ‘big brother’ enthusiasts to impose their morality and an overreach, this is an attempt to enact a new regulation that would damage existing business and take away the choices people now have, whether they are late-working individuals or people coming from a neighboring community where the closings are earlier to enjoy some late night time with friends.

We should respect their right to make their own choices.

Restaurateur Mark Croce, mentioned in Carl Paladino’s email (see related story), could not  be reached for comment. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown was also not available for comment by press time.

County Executive Mark Poloncarz, through spokesman Peter Anderson, said, “The County Executive does not have an opinion onbar closing times; it is an issue that is up to the Legislature and Liquor Authority.”

Buffalo Councilman Rich Fontana is among those who are willing to speak out on the issue, and he told Artvoice that he favors leaving the closing time at 4 a. m., saying “Buffalo is a bustling city, hoping to attract visitors from near and far, and I don’t think we should take a step backwards on providing opportunities to enjoy our city. And the rollback would absolutely hurt local businesses, and that’s not something we want to do.”

No matter the different views, informed sources say the measure is unlikely to pass the legislature at this time, with some saying part of the problem is that it was proposed by County Clerk Chris Jacobs with little advance warning and some lawmakers are reportedly miffed at Jacobs for surprising them with the item out of nowhere.

Majority Leader Joe Lorigo is known to be opposed to any rollback, and it appears he has the support to defeat the measure when it comes up for a vote Feb. 4.

That would be a victory for free enterprise, since people should be free to make their own decisions about their lives without crushing government regulation that, in this case, would have a serious negative impact on local businesses.

Consider: a bar owner has operated his business for decades closing at 4 am. He or she may actually depend on late business – as in, for example, a bar in Erie County close to the border of Niagara County where bars must close at 2 am weekdays and 3 am weekends.

A 2 am closing in Erie County might mean that, instead of picking up Niagara County business, a Niagara County bar, with its 3 am weekend closing, will now pick up Erie County late night business.

Has there been a serious impact study – of what this will do to a raft of businesses? Are there other spin off businesses [late night restaurants, taxis, hotels, entertainers, vendors?] that will be impacted by a sudden change after decades of 4 am Erie County bar closings?

Moralists may say this is not about money; this is about bettering society; that people who drink during the hours they oppose get into trouble, hurt society, whatever.

You can apply that same argument to drinking alcohol altogether or apply it to an even earlier hour. If drinking earlier is better, why notclose bars at midnight? But suppose someone works until midnight?

The shortening of hours of operation of bars serves to take a freedom long enjoyed in Erie County away. A wild freedom perhaps, but the freedom to go out, say, at 2 am and go to a bar to meet a friend or perhaps meet someone new.

It may be a freedom you do not care to possess; it may be a freedom you do not wish others to possess. Perhaps you sincerely feel it is bad to have people purchasing drinks in public after the hour you want them to stop drinking.

Yet as you fight for the right and precedent to  take away someone else’s freedom, one day they will use that precedent to take away yours.

The fact that this has come up for a vote when there is no known or publicly available peer reviewed local study that proves the urgent need to close bars earlier is outrageous.  For a government to presume to dictate to owners of legitimate businesses a sudden change in their hours of operation is not how governments operating in a Republic are supposed to work.

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