The town of Elon is establishing a social district — an area that allows patrons of downtown businesses to purchase and drink alcohol outdoors — outside of local restaurants such as Pandora’s Pies, MaGerk’s and TANGENT Eat+Bar.

The social district extends from the corner of W. Lebanon Avenue and N. Holt Avenue, to S. Williamson Avenue. It ends in the area on the corner of S. Williamson and W. College Avenue. 

A North Carolina General Assembly pandemic law expanded outdoor dining and alcohol consumption, but expired Aug. 15, 2022. Following the expiration date, the idea for the district was proposed at a Town Council meeting and approved Sept. 26, 2022.

Prior to COVID-19, possession or consumption of alcoholic beverages on public streets in downtown Elon was not permitted unless it was in a designated area during a special event.

Town of Elon Mayor Emily Sharpe said the district is soft-launching now — with signs up to let people know what it is and what parts of downtown it includes. The district will officially open April 21 when the town’s concert series, Music 2 Dine 2, kicks off for the spring and summer.

“It's something that we took advantage of for two years and then all of a sudden, it was like, wait— we can't do it,” Sharpe said. “So now I'm excited. I think it has been a really great opportunity for our businesses to expand their dining services in some way, shape or form and this just adds on to that.”

Downtown Development Director Jill Weston said it was important for the town to start the social district project while downtown was undergoing other expansions, such as the permanent patio space next to Pandora’s Pies.

“We didn't want to lose that momentum, we still want to allow that socializing and allow the over 21s to enjoy drinking outside in our dining areas and at our events,” Weston said.

Elon junior Juliana Mack turned 21 in the fall and said she goes out for drinks with friends at MaGerk’s. She said she likes the idea of having the space, but isn’t sure how often she’d use it.

“It’s a good idea in theory but because the rules are so specific about what you can have and where I feel like it will deter students from using it,” Mack said.

Sharpe said downtown Elon restaurants are participating using stickers — noting if beverages are sold there, if drinks are welcomed in the business or if drinks are not allowed. “Sold here” denotes locations with authorized licenses to sell alcoholic beverages. “Drinks welcome” means that patrons can bring drinks inside a business they are shopping at or visiting. “No drinks please” means that a business is not participating in the social district. 

The updated rendering from the town of Elon shows the final outline for the downtown social district. Rendering courtesy of the town of Elon.

Only beer and wine can be purchased and taken into the social district. The beverages must be purchased from a participating business and in the business’ designated cups. No outside alcohol is allowed, and alcohol of any kind isn’t allowed in parking lots or alley ways.

Weston said the most important part of developing a social district is safety. Town police will be patrolling the social district. Previous concerns from the town council before the district was voted on included confusion over where the perimeters for the district were and what alcohol could be consumed there. Sharpe and Weston said they hope putting signs out now, during its soft launch, with details that answer those questions will help people understand the boundaries, purpose and rules of the social district ahead of its opening and afterward.

“The rules apply as they have always applied,” Weston said. “It's just basically expanding from an outdoor patio to our sidewalk area that's on our map and the dining areas and nothing beyond that will be like they would normally get a citation if they were outside of an area that's allowing alcohol.”

Weston said she’s excited that the town is offering this to the community and to students who are over the age of 21. She said the social district is a kickoff to the master plan that the town is currently working on. 

“We're really proud of the fact that we are the first town or city in Alamance County to launch a social district,” Weston said.

The social district is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and no alcohol is permitted on sidewalks or dining areas outside of these hours.