Starting this weekend, bars throughout Pinellas County will have the option of extending their hours to 3 a.m.
The move was welcomed with applause at Tuesday's Pinellas County Commission meeting, where county bar owners spoke about the business they've lost ever since St. Petersburg extended its closing time to 3 a.m. in May.
"I'm jumping up and down, I'm so happy," said Loren Knuth, who runs the Boardwalk Tavern on 54th Avenue with his wife, Cheryl. Knuth came to commissioners in May frustrated because nearby bars in St. Petersburg could stay open later than his.
"We just wanted the option," Knuth said.
Knuth expects the extra hour will help, especially on weekends when he sees most of his traffic. "That's where we make our money."
Derek Junor, who owns Wild Willy's in Largo, estimates his bar can earn 20 percent more with the extra time. Most of his sales happen in the last two hours, he said.
Junor said he welcomed the later hour after years of watching customers leave his bar early. They used to leave Pinellas to go to Hillsborough County, but now they tell him they're headed to St. Petersburg.
"We want them to stay in our city," he said.
The new rule doesn't affect package sales, only businesses that serve alcohol.
The change will go into effect as soon as the ordinance is filed with the Department of State. The county staff estimated that could happen as early as Friday, but said that by Saturday bars should definitely be allowed to stay open later.
Most cities in the county told commissioners they were okay with extending the drinking hours. The Sheriff's Office gave the go-ahead as well.
Cities that want to keep closing time at 2 a.m. will have to pass ordinances of their own limiting the hours within their own jurisdictions. Several, including Belleair Bluffs, Indian Shores and Pinellas Park, indicated they planned to keep their hours as is.
Sara Gregory can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8785.