Enjoying the new social district

As of last Friday, the downtown Alpena social district is officially open.

For visitors to our downtown who are 21 and older, that now means you can purchase an alcoholic beverage from a participating business and walk around the district with it on sidewalks and in public parks such as Avery Park and Culligan Plaza.

For us, that was an exciting day to see the district open and usable after a few months of behind-the-scenes work and working with the city to develop a Maintenance and Operations Plan, install signage at each boundary point, place recycling receptacles, and research cups that would be as eco-friendly as possible.

Over 70 cities throughout Michigan have established social districts, and Alpena is the first in Northeast Michigan to be established. The state enacted the law to allow municipalities to create Social Districts within their jurisdictions in July 2020. Although many downtown organizations had previously discussed how to allow visitors to carry an open container of alcohol purchased from a downtown restaurant or bar throughout their downtown, the law was enacted in light of coronavirus-pandemic-related restrictions and the growing demand for distanced, outdoor dining.

Why not encourage people to support hospitality businesses and spend time in open-air public spaces with a glass of wine, beer, or cocktail?

This summer, it seems there are more people out and enjoying our downtown than ever before. Tourists who have never visited our side of the state but wanted to explore a new place. Locals who haven’t been downtown for awhile but wanted to check out the new shops and restaurants. Seasonal residents who love coming downtown each year when they visit. We believe that the social district will be one more draw for people to visit, walk around, enjoy the street performers on Friday night, and take in all our downtown has to offer.

If you do decide to enjoy a drink in the social district, a few friendly reminders:

∫ You can only purchase a drink to take into the district at businesses that have received a Social District Permit through the Michigan Liquor Control Commission. Currently, that is The Black Sheep, The Fresh Palate, Hopside Brewery, JJ’s, Mango’s Tequila Bar, Red Brick Tap and Barrel, Rusty Petunias Marketplace, and Thunder Bay Winery.

∫ Drinks must be served in a designated social district cup that has the logo of the business where you purchased it and says Downtown Alpena Social District on it.

∫ Cups for the district are recyclable — so, when you’re done, please either recycle the cup in a recycling bin, which are placed in Culligan Plaza, the Pocket Park, Avery Park, and boundary points. Or, take the cup home to reuse!

∫ You can’t take your drink into another business with a liquor license, unless it’s where you purchased it. For example, you can’t take a glass of wine from Thunder Bay Winery into the Fresh Palate.

∫ You also can’t take your drink into a food business without a liquor license, such as Cabin Creek or Downtown Scoops.

∫ There may be some shops downtown that will allow you to take a drink into their store, but not all of them allow food and beverages. Check in with them and respect their rules!

∫ Lastly, ​all state and city laws apply, including those prohibiting public intoxication, impaired driving, and serving alcohol to minors.

We are so excited to launch the district, and hope it adds to the enjoyment of all our downtown has to offer.


Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.


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