Around Ttown

Tuscaloosa businesses go green

March 29, 2011
Leave a Comment

_______________________________________

While talking with a friend over lunch, I got a tip that Little Willie’s blues bar had recently transformed into the eco-friendly Green Bar. It made me wonder if any other Tuscaloosa businesses were implementing green business practices, at least on a small level.

_______________________________________

Also published in The Crimson White

Students and Tuscaloosa residents may have noticed that one of downtown’s well-known bars, Little Willie’s, has gone through a transformation. What used to be blues is now green.

In February, Little Willie’s reopened as Green Bar, a venue that is embarking on a new level of sustainability in Tuscaloosa. Owner Bill Lloyd has not only changed the bar’s musical focus from jazz and blues to alternative and indie rock, but he has also changed its impact on the environment.

“I really got tired of seeing all that brown glass going to the dumpster,” Lloyd said. “I thought a venue of this size could do something about it.”

Green Bar sells beer in aluminum cans since Tuscaloosa does not provide recycling for brown glass. A organization called Temporary Emergency Services recycles the cans and is able to keeps the proceeds for its charitable efforts.

_______________________________________


_______________________________________

“We’re trying to stay away from plastic whenever we can,” said Lloyd, holding up a stack of paper shot glasses. “We also have beverage napkins and hand towels that are made from 100-percent, non-bleached recycled material.”

Green Bar’s transformation reflects a growing, world-wide trend of sustainable business practices to which others in Tuscaloosa are beginning to catch on.

FIVE is a new restaurant and bar downtown that uses environmentally-friendly to-go boxes made of 100-percent, recycled paperboard. General manager Jeremy Hicks said that the restaurant also cuts back on its use of Styrofoam whenever possible.

Hicks acknowledged that while the green product choices are more expensive, the restaurant is doing its part in looking out for both the environment and the community.

“I think some people are a little shallow-minded,” said Hicks in regard to green business innovations. “They don’t realize they need to make a change until there’s a real problem. In that way, I think [FIVE] is ahead of the game.”

Yet social responsibility may not be the only aim of green business innovations. Some restaurant and bar owners hope the changes will also have a positive effect on their marketing efforts by attracting a new generation of “earth-lovers.”

“I was going for a younger, hipper, more green-conscious clientele,” Lloyd said. So far, he admitted, it has been a good strategy to target the growing group of young people who are constantly aware of their impact on the environment.

“I thought they’d buy into it much easier and that they would be more receptive,” Lloyd said. “We made the change a couple weeks ago, and so far the reaction’s been very positive.”

_______________________________________

Inside Green Bar


_______________________________________

Yet restaurants and bars are not the only businesses “going green.” The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, which opens with its first performance on Friday, will be using environmentally-friendly soaps, tissues and microfiber hand towels. Weatherford Office Supply Co., located off 20th Avenue between the Strip and downtown, supplies both Green Bar and the amphitheater with products from its green-certified line.

The company’s environmentally-friendly product line includes a number of cleaners and paper products, as well as equipment such as green-certified vacuum cleaners. Owner Howard White said he began carrying green products about five years ago, before there was any local interest or demand.

“In this part of the country, people weren’t interested in green products at that time,” White said. “But we began educating ourselves and attending seminars. We knew that green products were the direction a lot of businesses would be headed soon.”

At this point, White’s green-conscious prophecies seem to be coming true.

Advertisements

Posted in Uncategorized

Tuscaloosa votes ‘yes’ to Sunday sales

February 23, 2011
Leave a Comment

_______________________________________

I was live at city hall for the reporting of the vote on Sunday alcohol sales.

_______________________________________

The Feb. 22 city council meeting convened at 6 p.m. as scheduled. Council members honored local pageant winners and approved special event licenses, but tension lay thick throughout city hall. The climax was yet to come.

Polls closed at 7 p.m. for Tuscaloosa’s referendum on Sunday alcohol sales. District results were reported to city hall one by one, yet proponents of the vote soon found reason to relax. Tuscaloosa residents voted to allow alcohol sales on Sundays with a 78 percent voting majority.

Robin Edgeworth, legal affairs administrator, acted as the official spokesperson for Mayor Maddox.

“Voter turnout was good,” said Edgeworth, referring to the 26 percent of registered voters who participated. “We’re pleased with the number of voters.”

A total of 11,377 Tuscaloosa residents voted on the referendum; votes in favor of Sunday sales totaled 8,873, with 2,504 votes opposed. Edgeworth noted that voter turnout was higher than passed elections.

Edgeworth said that voting results will not be final until the council reconvenes Tuesday March 1 to tally provisional votes. She noted, however, that there will most likely not be enough to overcome the current 6,369-voter gap between those in favor and those opposed.

“We had a large student turnout this year,” Edgeworth said. District 4, the voting location for a majority of registered university students, reported a 95 percent majority in favor of Sunday sales.

“I guess they all just wanted to exercise their civic duty,” said Edgeworth.

Bob Woodman, however, said he knows that high student participation was more than mere happenstance.

Woodman is the spokesperson of Jobs for Tuscaloosa, an ad hoc group formed as part of the Political Action Committee to advocate Sunday sales. Woodman was at city hall for the reporting of the results, and he said that one of the group’s main goals was to increase student participation.

“Part of our strategy was to mobilize the student body,” Woodman said. “We wanted to inform students about how to register, give them plenty of background on the issues, and then let them vote their conscience.”

In the weeks prior to the vote, Jobs for Tuscaloosa highlighted the potential positive influences that Sunday sales would have on the city’s economy. With Sunday sales, Woodman said, the city of Tuscaloosa has the opportunity to grow into more than a college town.

“You look at somewhere like Austin, Texas, and students want to stay there after they graduate,” Woodman said. “I think we can turn Tuscaloosa into to something similar for graduating students.”

Jobs for Tuscaloosa sponsored stretch limousines that shuttled students from campus to the District 4 polling location at the Calvary Baptist Church annex. Woodman said he was pleased to hear that many students made use of the service.

“We knew parking around the church was going to be hard, and we wanted to give students an easy way to get there and vote,” Woodman said.

Every voting district of Tuscaloosa reported a majority in favor of Sunday sales. Although District 4 had the largest majority at 95 percent, both Districts 1 and 2 reported 84 percent in favor. The lowest majority was that of District 6, with 68 percent.

At the end of the meeting, Mayor Maddox announced that the council will reconvene Tuesday, March 1 at noon to canvas the returns and tally the provisional votes. The council will announce the final results at that time.

“The voters have spoken,” said Edgeworth, after all the district results were reported. “The city of Tuscaloosa will proceed to implement the wishes of the voters.”

Unless the city council votes on any restrictions, Edgeworth said Sunday sales will go into effect on March 6 for all restaurants and vendors currently licensed to sell alcohol.


Posted in Uncategorized

Students consider impact of Sunday sales vote

February 19, 2011
Leave a Comment

_______________________________________

I read some opinionated “Letters to the Editor” in university newspaper pertaining to the upcoming vote on Sunday sales. The local media has predominantly been focusing on quotes from community leaders, so I wanted to find out how students felt about the referendum and how they’d be affected if it passed.

_______________________________________

On Tuesday, Tuscaloosa residents will decide whether they will allow Sunday alcohol sales. Vehement advocating from the community on both sides of the issue has made it one of much contention and the outcome difficult to predict.

Local news publications have repeatedly interviewed city councilmen and church leaders about the foreseeable impact of Sunday sales, yet little has been done to poll one of the city’s largest demographic groups.

University of Alabama students number nearly 31,000, which is roughly 30 percent of the Tuscaloosa population. Many students said they understand the importance of staying involved in city issues like Sunday sales because the outcome will affect them as members of the Tuscaloosa community.

Some students said they believe the potential economic benefits alone are reason enough to support the upcoming vote.

University student Kingsley Clark, a junior, said that Sunday alcohol sales can only bring more money into the city.

“When you open the door for a growth in sales quotas, you open the door to more business,” Clark said. “No business will suffer on account of Sunday sales.”

Despite Clark’s reference to the city’s “traditional southern stance,” she said she thinks Sunday sales have a plausible chance of approval, if only for the financial opportunities that would be created.

“[Sunday sales] have the power to make lots of dollars because it makes sense,” Clark said. “Nicer restaurants will come, better hotels, and the city will see a leap in commerce, which is something the city needs right now.”

Junior student Addy Hamilton said she views the vote as an opportunity to increase revenue, but also as a matter of convenience.

“Some people travel out of the city limits to get alcohol [on Sundays],” said Hamilton, indicating that if the vote passes, that revenue would stay in Tuscaloosa.

“People will be able to go out to dinner and have a glass of wine or beer,” Hamilton said. Although she does not see herself taking advantage of that opportunity every Sunday, Hamilton said it is nice to know she has the option.

Yet, while most students recognize the importance of understanding how city referendums will affect them, some disagree as to whether it is appropriate to actually take part in the voting process.

Senior student Jonathan Stein said he believes that local elections do not pertain to university students.

“The students in Tuscaloosa are nothing but four to five year guests,” Stein said. “Very few of them go on to become full-time residents of the area. For this reason, they don’t have the right to change regional laws which are a direct reflection of the ideals of the true residents of the area.”

Stein said the law is being voted on for one reason with two justifications.

“The reason is the selfishness of the students and local restaurants,” Stein said. “The justification for the businesses is that selling alcohol will increase revenues. The students’ justification is that they shouldn’t have to abide by the rules of the area because, where they grew up, it was acceptable to sell alcohol on Sunday.”

Clark, however, said she thinks it is important for students to vote on Tuesday. Clark said that students may be temporary residents of the city, but Tuscaloosa is a “permanent college town.”

“The same faces won’t be here in five years, but a new fresh-faced generation with probably the same ideals will be,” Clark said. “It’s important to get involved to pave the way for their future alumni.”

Although the impending vote on Sunday sales has stirred the opinions of university students, most say their Sunday schedules would probably not see drastically change.

“I usually spend [the day] studying,” Hamilton said. “I don’t see myself drinking much on Sundays anyway.”

Clark, however, indicated Sunday sales might provide an occasional alternative to her traditional weekend agenda.

“I only have one class on Mondays at 3 p.m.,” Clark said. “As the warm weather sets in, a patio day at Innisfree doesn’t seem so presumptuous.”

Whether her Sunday fantasies become reality, she will know soon.


Posted in Uncategorized

Representatives debate Sunday alcohol sales

February 15, 2011
Leave a Comment

_______________________________________

Our professor brought in two speakers to debate on Tuscaloosa’s upcoming referendum to allow Sunday alcohol sales.

_______________________________________

On Feb. 22, the citizens of Tuscaloosa will vote to decide whether alcohol sales will be permitted on Sundays. The impending vote has stirred proponents of both sides to encourage voter turnout and appeal to any residents who may be wavering on the issue.

Lee Garrison, city councilman of District 4, and Baptist minister Ed Steelman advocated opposing views on the proposed Sunday alcohol sales to students at Reese Phifer on Monday.  Garrison, who supports Sunday sales, highlighted the possible economic benefits while Steelman, his opponent, argued it would only worsen the alcohol problems that Tuscaloosa already faces.

Garrison and Steelman spoke respectively, followed by an opportunity for students to ask questions. 

Garrison said he viewed Sunday alcohol sales as an opportunity to further the city’s efforts to improve the economy of Tuscaloosa. Garrison began by sharing the city council’s goals and recent initiatives to increase revenue and said Sunday sales would aid those efforts.
 
“This to me an economic issue,” Garrison said. “It’s not a matter of legality. Sunday sales is an opportunity to make Tuscaloosa competitive for a lot of different reasons.”

Garrison said that Tuscaloosa would be more attractive to large businesses and franchises if alcohol sales were permitted on Sundays.

“Many restaurants report that Sunday is their third-highest day for alcohol revenue,” Garrison said. “Many of them won’t even consider opening locations in Tuscaloosa without the allowance of Sunday sales.”  

Existing businesses would also reap the financial benefits, Garrison said.

 “It’s a matter of providing that economic growth 52 more days of the year. It just fits into the big picture of what Tuscaloosa is trying to do.”

Steelman followed and said that Garrison, and his fellow advocates, have no evidence to support that Sunday sales will increase revenue or provide any economic benefits.

Steelman began by citing an article in which The Tuscaloosa News interviewed financial directors of other cities that have recently legalized alcohol sales on Sundays.

“Not one [financial director] could indicate that they had seen increased revenues as a result of Sunday sales,” said Steelman, referring to the city of Montgomery and other Alabama counties.

Steelman said he disagreed with the need to attract large businesses, and he listed companies and franchises already located in Tuscaloosa.

“There are already a lot of good employers,” Steelman said. “There’s money here to be spent. There’s money here to be made.”

Steelman said his main concern was that Sunday alcohol sales would only enlarge problems of underage drinking and threaten the quality of life that currently exists. He cited studies by organizations, such as Pride of Tuscaloosa, that showed local underage drinking rates to be higher than average.

“Making alcohol more available will only create more problems in general, especially for our young people,” Steelman said. “Tuscaloosa has six day and six nights to sell alcohol, and we’re not disputing that. We’re saying we should have one day out of seven to rest. It’s a quality of life issue that’s going to create more problems than revenue.”

Both Steelman and Garrison closed the meeting by encouraging students to exercise their right to vote.

Students registered in District 4 can vote Feb. 22 at the Calvary Baptist Church on Paul Bryant Drive.


Posted in Uncategorized

Strip’s businesses build and preserve character

February 7, 2011
Leave a Comment

_______________________________________

Since I’m not from the Tuscaloosa area, I wanted to first become more familiar with the history of the Strip and downtown and find out how the area has changed over time. I decided my first story would be a feature article about how longtime business owners feel the character of the Strip has been both preserved and threatened throughout the years.

_______________________________________

If a visitor were to drive through the University of Alabama campus, they would head down University Boulevard under a canopy of tall oaks trees. On the right, the stately Denny Chimes presides over the Quad. On the left, a majestic 101,000-seat stadium stands behind a Walk of Champions.

The next stretch, however, is rather understated in comparison. Yet that quaintness is all the charm of the Tuscaloosa Strip.

The following five blocks of bars, restaurants and shops is only a small extension of the campus, but the heart of its social life. The Strip’s restaurants are popular places to grab a burger and beer, and its bars form the hub of student nightlife. Loyal fans and alumni swarm the streets on a game day, where merely setting foot on the sidewalk brings them back to the glory days.

The Strip has adapted through the years to accommodate new generations of students, yet it has always maintained a sense of tradition that students, alumni and residents are adamant about preserving.

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

According to business owners, the development and retention of the Strip’s character has been both a process and a fight.

The Alabama Bookstore has been on the Strip since 1942. Owner David Jones said he considers the Strip’s history an important part of its character.

“I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa for 62 years,” Jones said. “I’ve seen a lot of change.”

His earliest memories paint a picture of the Strip that is different than current students are familiar with.

“When I was in school at the university in the 1960s, the Strip really had a hometown feel,” Jones said. “Business serving alcohol were not allowed within three miles of a school. I remember along the street there were grocery stores and barber shops. Until the alcohol law was lifted in the 1970s, the Strip was really geared more toward residents rather than students.”

In the following years, Jones said, bars began to emerge as the Strip started evolving as a place for nightlife.

Bob Weatherly, who owns Egan’s Bar on the Strip, first came to the university as a student in 1973. Weatherly said he remembers a similar evolution as bars began to appear.

“There used to be a bar called Solomon’s on the corner,” Weatherly said, describing a location which is now a vacant lot. “Then of course there was Gallettes, which is still there today.”

Weatherly bought Egan’s Bar in 1981, but he said he would describe the Strip as “pretty run-down” throughout the next decade.

Jones confirmed the 1980s and early 1990s were a time of slow development.

“In a way, the Strip really started to deteriorate,” he said. “Half the stores were vacant. It wasn’t until about 10 or 12 years ago that the city decided to revamp it.”

Jones referred to the city of Tuscaloosa’s $2.3 million rehabilitation program to improve the Strip and surrounding area. The project, which began in 1999, focused on the replacing drainage, curbs, sidewalks and landscaping.

Both owners said the renovations were very beneficial to Strip businesses and gave new life to the area.

“They made the store fronts more attractive with brick,” Jones said, explaining that the Strip acquired the visual appearance that students are familiar with today.

Throughout the next few years, Weatherly said, high spirits remained among Strip business owners until the university’s involvement five years ago.

_______________________________________

_______________________________________

In 2006, the University of Alabama purchased the building on the corner of University Boulevard and Twelfth Avenue and refused to renew the lease of The Booth, a popular bar on the Strip. University officials claimed their goal was to improve the safety of the area, following two shootings outside a bar on the Strip in the preceding spring.

Jones said he knows the university had different motives.

“The university wanted to wipe me out as a competitor,” he said. “They approached me, as well as Gallettes and other businesses, with an offer to purchase. They wanted to get all the land they could.”

Jones responded by launching a campaign called “Save the Strip” to raise awareness of the university’s actions and how they would negatively affect the businesses and character of the Strip. The university eventually ended their attempt to acquire additional property on the Strip, stating that adequate changes had been made to improve the area’s safety without their further involvement.

“With luck and help from a lot of people, we got them to change their mind,” Jones said. “I think that would have been the end of the Strip within only a couple years.”

Weatherly said, however, while he is glad the university backed down, he still sees the effects of the property that they were able to acquire.

“The Strip has become somewhat more homogenized,” Weatherly said. “I have nothing against the rental offices and national chains, but the character of the buildings have in some ways been affected.”

Jones said the importance of tradition is reason enough for his strong efforts to maintain the Strip’s character.

“People want to come back and see things they remember,” Jones said.

Current students, including junior Jaclyn McNeil, said they recognize the importance of preserving the Strip. When she returns to Tuscaloosa ten years from now, McNeil said she hopes to see all her favorite places still around.

“Part of the appeal of Tuscaloosa is that it has so many locally owned restaurants, bars and shops,” McNeil said. “That’s why my friends and I continue to support local businesses.”

That’s sweet music to Jones’ ears.


Posted in Uncategorized

Hello

February 1, 2011
2 Comments

I’m a student journalist at the University of Alabama. My assigned area of coverage is downtown Tuscaloosa and the Strip, a five-block extension of campus that is home to various shops, restaurants and bars. Check back frequently to stay updated on important happenings within my beat, which will hopefully be delivered with journalistic professionalism!


Posted in Uncategorized