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Poll finds strong support for earlier bar closing times

An overwhelming majority of Erie County residents favor closing local bars and restaurants earlier than 4 a.m. in a new poll partially sponsored by County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs, who is championing the idea without support from a single area lawmaker.

In a randomly selected survey of 600 county residents likely to vote, 69 percent say they support changing closing time to 2 a.m., with only 29 percent opposing. Barry Zeplowitz and Associates conducted the poll Sept. 9-11.

Though Jacobs wields no official powers over closing time and the idea has yet to catch on in the body that sets bar hours – the County Legislature – the clerk said he hopes such strong support will advance discussion and eventually prompt the change.

“I feel an overwhelming amount of people agree that it’s time to look at this and get in line with the majority of counties around the state and country,” he said. “I’m not surprised at the results. Most people I talk to feel it’s a no-brainer.”

Jacobs proposed a 2 a.m. closing time in an August op-ed piece for The Buffalo News, resurrecting an idea that periodically enters into local discussion. He suggested that ending the traditional 4 a.m. closing would reduce drunken driving fatalities, improve the quality of life in neighborhoods near noisy bars, and decrease the costs of late night law enforcement.

“I do believe it will save lives in terms of DWI, while others will see it as a quality-of-life issue,” he said, adding that poll results show Erie County residents are ready to confront the question.

Pollster Barry Zeplowitz acknowledged that the county clerk partially funded the survey, but noted that impartial methodology was used to conduct the poll and that Jacobs’ name was never mentioned to those polled. The random sampling of voters in the poll included 30 percent cellphone users to ensure that young people were included.

As a result, he said the differences in the opinions of respondents of different age groups represents one of the poll’s most interesting results.

An earlier closing time is supported by 72 percent of those over 35, compared to 26 percent in that age group who do not.

An earlier closing is supported by 54 percent of those between 18 and 34, compared to 41 percent who do not.

Even though the younger group still backed the earlier closing hour, the pollster was struck by the difference between their level of support and that of older residents.

“There’s just a total difference between the younger people and those 35-plus,” he said, noting no other significant disparities based on sex, political affiliation or geographic location.

“It is totally representative of Erie County voters,” he said.

Zeplowitz noted the overall strong support for the idea.

“If it went to a referendum, I have no doubt it would have well over 70 percent of the vote,” he said. “The older people are the ones who most strongly support this, and they are the people who come out to vote in every election year.”

No one has proposed such a referendum, and questions surround the legal ability to stage such a vote. The News reported the lack of enthusiasm in the Legislature immediately after Jacobs’ proposed the earlier closing last month.

Local tavern owners have also adopted no uniform approach to the idea, which surfaces every few years.

“Our feeling is that we should leave it to the choice of the individual operators,” said Ellie Grenauer, proprietor of the Glen Park Tavern in Williamsville and Western New York chapter president of the New York State Restaurant Association.

Jacobs, meanwhile, said he is not discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm among local officials. He thinks the new survey should at least prompt more discussion.

“My feeling is less about the electeds and more about having a community discussion heard,” he said. “I think at the appropriate time, the elected officials will respond.”

Zeplowitz also noted that 60 percent of the poll respondents believe closing at 2 a.m. will help decrease DWI accidents; 73 percent agree that rowdy behavior increases in bar neighborhoods as the clock nears 4 a.m.; 50 percent believe bar earnings will be negatively affected, and 61 percent agree with the axiom that “nothing good happens after 2 a.m.”

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.