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Raleigh’s downtown social drinking district launches Monday. Here’s how it will work.

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Eric Wilkerson shows his cup while crossing South Elm Street in downtown Greensboro on March 17 within the city’s “social district.” Raleigh is starting its own social district, which allows people to walk around with alcoholic drinks from participating businesses if they are in approved cups. The General Assembly passed the law in 2021 that allows cities and counties to set up these social districts.

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s capital city joins Greensboro and others with the launch Monday of its first social drinking district.

More than 70 businesses are participating, hoping alcohol will bring more people back downtown.

“While this is a pilot program, our expectation is this will help us achieve our goals of supporting small businesses and creating a vibrant environment downtown,” Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin said.

Council member Jonathan Melton, who pushed for the district, said he’s glad to join the other cities that have taken advantage of the new state law allowing them.

Greensboro, High Point, Kannapolis and Monroe are among cities and towns that have already launched their programs. Even tiny towns like Madison, which boasts about 2,200 residents, in Rockingham County, have started a social district. Winston-Salem, Charlotte and Durham are considering creating similar districts.

“I hope the social district will help boost our small businesses, bring more people into our downtown business district and provide opportunities for folks to gather and enjoy themselves,” Melton said.

Where is the social district?

Planning to visit Raleigh? Here’s where to find the new social district: It is primarily along Fayetteville Street and its adjoining streets, roughly between Moore and Nash squares. The borders include the Raleigh Convention Center, Red Hat Amphitheater and Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Signs will show the borders of the districts.

What are the hours?

11 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

How does it work?

Businesses in the district that serve alcohol and have joined the program will be able to sell alcoholic beverages that people can drink as they walk to their next location. The drinks can also be taken into participating businesses while they visit or shop, as long as the business doesn’t sell alcohol.

For example, someone finishing their dinner at Sitti could ask for a drink to go. They would get their drink in a social district cup, which they could take into several nearby businesses including Alter EGO Hair Salon, House of Swank and Read with Me Children’s Books & Art, all of which have opted-in to the social district. But they would have to finish their drink before they could go to another business that sells alcohol, like Watts & Wards.

Who can sell drinks?

Businesses that have an ABC license, are located within the district and that have opted in will be able to sell social district drinks. Those drinks will be marked by a special cup and sticker.

Participating business will have signs showing people can bring drinks in or that drinks are sold inside.

Can you bring alcohol in from home?No. This isn’t a BYOB situation. And drinks can’t be bought at businesses outside the district even if they are downtown.

What about during events and festivals?

A special event permit, with a temporary permit to sell alcohol, supersedes and suspends a social district.

So if a festival closes a portion of Fayetteville Street and alcohol can be sold at the event, businesses within the social district and the “event footprint” will not be allowed to sell social district drinks.

Businesses outside the event footprint but still inside the social district boundaries will be allowed to sell social district beverages but they won’t be allowed inside the event area.

Will this come to other places?

This is a pilot program. If this is successful, it could be replicated in other parts of the city. One area that’s been mentioned is in North Hills.

One place it’s not coming to is Glenwood South. Elected leaders have repeatedly said the nightlife hot spot would not be a good candidate for a social district.

Madison debuts 'Social District' to allow outdoor drinking downtown
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When in roam: Inspired by Greensboro, this city may want its own 'social district'
Walk this way: A slow go for 'Downtown BORO'
Want to browse with a beer? You can now do it in downtown Greensboro.
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