ABC license spikes biz in Norton
Participants in Southwest Virginia’s fourth High Knob Outdoor Fest rode mountain bikes, hiked nature trails and floated down the Clinch River, but many also sipped beer and wine in Norton’s new Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA).
The DORA designation from the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority lets adult customers buy drinks from ABC-licensed establishments within a set zone and then walk around the area. Legalized in July 2021, DORA licenses differ from event permits in that cities can create permanent open-air locations where drinking is allowed. Danville and Roanoke, among other cities, have DORA licenses.
Norton unveiled its zone during the August High Knob fest, a celebration of the region’s outdoor recreational activities. A week later, Norton held the inaugural Flag Rock Hill Climb, the second event to offer the outdoor refreshment area option.
“The first two events went really well,” says City Manager Fred Ramey Jr. “There were no issues, and this is something we will use again in the future.”
Norton City Council voted to apply for the DORA permit in June. “This was something council wanted to do to help downtown businesses and restaurants, and bring more activities to downtown,” Ramey says. “We hope more people will come downtown for these events and go into businesses to eat and purchase beverages.”
Incorporating an outdoor refreshment area for special events is part of Norton’s downtown revitalization efforts. The city is using a community block grant from the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to fund aesthetic improvements, encourage business development and refurbish a former automobile dealership into the Norton Expo Center.
Lincoln Road Coffee Lounge, one of the three ABC-licensed vendors within the DORA zone, saw an increase in sales and brand awareness during the summer festivals, says co-owner Blake Salyer.
“We’re happy to be a stop where people can grab a drink and then go to the events,” he says. “Having the DORA pulls downtown businesses into events instead of adding an outside entity.”
Doughmakers Pizza also attributed a spike in sales to the license. “It definitely increased business,” manager Isaiah Gibson says. “Everything was kept under control, and everyone had a great time.”
Future events incorporating the license have not been announced, but Ramey believes the city will use the outdoor refreshment area frequently. “People have already asked for more events with DORA.”