Published 5:43 pm Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Let’s take a walk on the wild side of Trade Street

In so many ways, Tryon is a unique and interesting community.

It can be an oasis of culture, a hotbed of politics, laidback, silly, serious as all get-out about its pet causes and supportive of its own in times of need.

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Nestled in the thermal belt, it has long been the envy of neighboring villages, large and small. It has been a destination long before that word became a trendy catchphrase by civic leaders hoping to cash in on tourism.

When I first moved to the Carolina Foothills — the South Carolina side of the state line — about 30 years ago, I knew my home state had blue laws that prohibited a long list of possible vices, such as dancing too close to a graveyard, beating your wife on the courthouse steps and buying alcohol on Sundays.

At the time — and still today — we often would like to eat out on Sunday afternoons, and having a beer with our pizza or tacos was a high priority. No problem, I soon learned from my brother-in-law, the school principal.

We lived just across the state line, and getting a drink with a meal on Sunday afternoon in Tryon was no big deal. Actually, we could somehow manage to get six-packs for take-home back down to Gramling.

At the time, I didn’t understand. I’m not entirely sure I understand now.

The disconnect for me was that I was told that Polk County was “dry,” meaning it didn’t sell alcohol. But the town of Tryon was in Polk County.

And what was this “brown bag” thing? Caro-Mi restaurant (my forever favorite place to eat) didn’t serve alcohol, but I could bring my own — in a brown bag?

My brother-in-law, a Carolina Foothills native, repeatedly tried to explain the situation to me, but I never really felt knowledgeable enough to order a beer on Sunday in Tryon.

I’d let him place his order first, and if he didn’t get turned down, I’d order a beer, too.

As the years and beers rolled by, the blue laws began to fade, and Tryon continued to be a progressive safe haven for responsible imbibers, such as me and my brother-in-law. I’m told that actually a great many nearby South Carolinians would travel to Tryon on Sundays because of its more liberal drinking laws.

But the lack of complete understanding between the laws in South Carolina, North Carolina, Polk County and Tryon still troubled me. To cope, I just did whatever everyone else was doing — if someone ordered a beer and got it, I’d order one too. If no one ordered a beer, I didn’t either.

I guess I’ll never be a trendsetter in beer drinking.

In more recent years, as I found myself doing more work and making more friends in Tryon, I noticed people drinking on the sidewalk on Trade Street, usually on Friday afternoon for what I would call happy hour. Now that seemed really odd to me.

From my South Carolina perspective, open containers of alcohol in public was a big no-no. Certainly no open containers in cars. No open containers on the beach on the Grand Strand. Restaurants would not let you take your beer or wine with you when you left.

But now, I was seeing small crowds of people standing outside of beer-selling establishments in Tryon, knocking them back. Not that I personally minded, but I wanted to understand — just in case I ever found myself standing on Trade Street with a Budweiser in hand.

Recently, I decided to ask the questions and get the answers once and for all. After just a little digging, I began to understand that a city or town can create its own law or ordinance in regards to alcohol sales and consumption — and yet still be in a dry county.

I found myself at the town hall looking for answers. There, I met the town clerk, the town manager and the chief of police — all very nice people willing to discuss the matter and do their best to make me understand.

We huddled for about 20-30 minutes, with me asking everything from the simply obvious to the most outrageous questions. After much ado, some of the beer fog began to clear.

By the power of a city ordinance, adults can drink beer and wine on the sidewalk of Trade Street in Tryon. You can drink as far south as New Market Street and as far north as Palmer Street between the hours of noon and 11 p.m. any day of the week. Do not cross the street with a beer in hand.

Technically, I could bring my little red cooler from home, find a nice bench on the sidewalk and crack open a Miller beer. I could walk with beer in hand from New Market Street to Palmer Street. I could start as early as noon but I must stop by 11 p.m.

Wow! Well, OK. I heard this from the chief of police in the presence of the town manager, so I take it to be true and perfectly legal. FYI, the mayor says this is accurate and fair, too.

But why? I think this ordinance is great, but I’m surprised and wondering why such a law would have been on the books to begin with. In South Carolina, we get paranoid drinking a beer in our own backyard, grilling Sunday’s dinner.

As it was explained to me, the thinking behind Tryon’s liberal open container laws is to promote tourism and hospitality. It certainly seems to be working.

But, as with most laws, there are rules — rules that can trip you up if you’re not careful.

The most likely infraction of the law might happen is when someone tries to take an open container in or out a door. I was getting confused again. What about those small crowds of people in front of the beer-selling establishment on Trade Street?

Are they not buying beer inside and walking outside to drink? Yes, sort of.

There’s a tricky little state law that say you cannot buy a beer, open it inside the business and carry it outside where it is legal to drink on the sidewalk.

The trick is to buy the beer, but don’t open it until you have both feet on the sidewalk.

I admit, I don’t understand, but I do know how to follow rules, no matter how bewildering they may be.

The town’s leaders had hoped the liberal drinking laws would accommodate better business downtown, like when several art galleries have receptions and you want to visit them in one fell swoop and carry that little plastic cup of Chardonnay with you.

No. Stop right there.

You cannot carry an open container of alcohol out of a building, not even in a Dixie cup. You could open a full bottle of wine on the street and drink it as you walk.

Basically, open containers of alcohol should not cross a business’s threshold. Open it inside and drink it inside, or open it outside and drink it outside.

Good thing I’m not a big drinker. I’m sure I’d manage to mess up somewhere, somehow.

I guess I’ll just do what I normally do — whatever the guy next to me is doing.

Steve Wong is a writer living in the peach orchards in Gramling, South Carolina. He can be reached online at