CLEARWATER BEACH, Fla. — Clearwater leaders are fighting to keep Clearwater Beach’s family-friendly reputation. Clearwater city council members met Thursday night to discuss a big change that would impact 13 bars on popular Clearwater Beach.
The original proposal was to scale back alcohol sales from 3 a.m. to 1 a.m. on Clearwater Beach, Island Estates, and Sand Key (the change wouldn’t impact the rest of the city).
Instead, Clearwater leaders voted Thursday on a 6-month self-policing policy allowing late night establishments to police themselves and help the beach community combat alcohol-related crimes.
The idea of cutting off alcohol sales at 1am didn't sit well with Peter Czajkowski, the owner of Jamminz Beach Bar on Mandalay Avenue. Czajkowski has made one change after another fighting to keep his beach bar thriving throughout the pandemic.
“From closing our businesses to reopening and then adding kitchens and taking kitchens away. Then, we went from 50% capacity, then seated service,” he elaborated.
He says Clearwater’s proposal to stop alcohol sales at 1 a.m. would cost him 35% of his business revenue and put everything he’s worked for on the line.
“We have done everything and this is just the final slap in the face and I just don’t think it’s right. We’ve been adjusting the whole time throughout this whole pandemic making the best of the situation and it seems like they continue to pull the rungs out from underneath us,” Czajkowski explained.
Clearwater Police Department leaders crunched the numbers and what they found was after midnight, police calls went down about 30% on the mainland in Clearwater versus on Clearwater Beach, where they say calls stay consistently high until 3 a.m. when the bars start closing.
Most of the crime includes DUIs, fights, drunk pedestrians and disorderly intoxication calls. Clearwater leaders say that doesn’t mix with the beach’s family-friendly reputation.
Frank Hibbard, the Mayor of Clearwater says it’s a delicate balance. “We just want a good atmosphere. As I think all fathers tell their kids, nothing good happens after midnight. We don’t want to damage our businesses especially during COVID, but once you’ve had significant issues that’s something that’s going to stick with us potentially long after COVID-19 is gone. It doesn’t mean we don’t want people to have fun, we just want them to stay under control and we think this may be the solution,” he said.
City leaders decided instead to give business owners a 6-month window to resolve the problems on their own by training bartenders on serving limits or adding security.
Daniel Slaughter, Clearwater’s Police Chief says he realizes that some bar owners are trying to do the right thing. “There are some business owners that really take a lot of pride in being a good partner and neighbor and there’s ones that don’t. It may come down to peer pressure from other businesses saying you’re screwing it up for everybody and we’re not gonna tolerate it.”
Czajkowski worries he’s being lumped in, despite doing everything he can to keep customers safe. A sign posted outside of Jamminz warns against fighting, drug use, and “creepy behavior.” They’re rules he says he strictly enforces.
“To put everyone under one umbrella is so frustrating because I work hard for my reputation. My reputation is everything for me,” he said.
Business owners made their voices heard at Thursday night’s meeting. They were happy to hear the blanket alcohol hour change failed with a vote of 4-1 Thursday.