Editorial: A Later Closing Time; N.H. Proposal Raises Legitimate Concerns

The Upper Valley is known for lots of things, but even its most enthusiastic boosters would probably concede that vibrant night life is not one of them. So we can understand the social and economic appeal of bills pending in the New Hampshire Legislature that would permit establishments that serve alcohol to remain open an hour longer, until 2 a.m. What’s not to like about giving people an extra hour to socialize over drinks and, not incidentally, pumping a little more money into the local economy?

Actually, a lot, judging from staff writer Zack Peterson’s account in the Sunday Valley News. Public safety officials in Hanover, Lebanon and Claremont all expressed deep reservations, based on concerns about increased drunken driving fueled by an extra hour of alcohol consumption. In a rural area, where relatively few people live within walking distance of a bar, that is certainly a legitimate thing to worry about. Claremont Police Chief Alexander Scott expressed the additional fear that his department would incur overtime costs in order to be adequately staffed — costs unlikely to be reimbursed by the state.

As it happens, the legislation is structured in such a way as to exacerbate safety concerns. Rather than get a blanket extension, communities would be able to opt in or opt out of the later hours (depending on whether the House or Senate version of the bill ultimately prevails). As Scott pointed out, this creates the potential for bar patrons to migrate from one community to another when last call is declared in a community that retains 1 a.m. closing. That portends more people who have been drinking being out on the roads in a concentrated period of time.

“I think it’s a bad idea,” Scott told Peterson. “I think it creates higher-risk situations, and I’m not sure what the importance is for this at the state level.”

That public safety officials would have reservations is not particularly surprising, but it was notable that several restaurant proprietors interviewed by Peterson suggested that extended hours might create more problems for them than the economic opportunity was worth.

Nigel Leeming, longtime owner of Murphy’s on the Green in downtown Hanover, said he wouldn’t change his closing time in any case. “I think you have to be more vigilant the later the night goes on. Be careful what you ask for,” said Leeming.

Monitoring alcohol consumption could also become more difficult if patrons from establishments that close at 1 a.m. appear in large numbers at those that close at 2. There’s something to be said for uniformity in these matters.

John Chapin, owner of the Canoe Club, also mentioned the toll an extra hour would take on his employees, whose home lives could be affected.

These are all good arguments, and we subscribe to most of them. On the other hand, we are also mindful that the Upper Valley, like New Hampshire and Vermont, is gray and getting grayer. Attracting young people to live and work here is a high priority, and the availability of night life is frequently a priority for them. And like it or not, alcohol is usually an important part of that scene.

It seems to us that a reasonable compromise would be to permit extended hours on only Fridays and Saturdays to begin with, to see whether public safety fears are borne out or any unforeseen problems surface. If all goes well, the extension could be extended.