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Town Wants Bars To Close Earlier

November 3, 1997

WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) _ At the Anchor Inn, the big issue this Election Day is reduced to a clipped newspaper advertisement taped up to the glass door: ``Protect your pocketbook. Vote to hold down taxes. Vote to save jobs. Vote no.″

But it’s not some weighty issue like taxes or casino gambling that’s dividing this little beach town these days.

It’s bar closing hours.

A measure up for a vote Tuesday would order bars that serve summer customers to close at 3 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. Bars close at 3 a.m. the rest of the year.

Supporters say the proposition will cut down on the drunken revelry that has given Wildwood its reputation for rowdiness among visitors from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The issue came to a head in February after a 23-year-old man was beaten to death outside a bar.

Mayor Fred Wager and business owners say an early closing time will cut into the bars’ profits and could lead to layoffs. They say it is a misguided reaction to the fatal beating, which happened around 2:30 a.m. in the winter.

``They’re throwing the baby out with the bath water,″ said Wayne Vogel, 55, of Wildwood, as he nursed a cold bottle of Budweiser at the Anchor Inn. ``This is not the problem. Nothing happens in those two hours that isn’t already happening.″

While only about 10 bars stay open until 5 a.m. in the summer, the measure gives residents the chance to decide the future of this southern New Jersey town of about 4,500.

``It’s a litmus test,″ said Jack Dever of Wildwood. ``We’ve been talking about family orientation for more than two years. I view this as a litmus test on whether the townspeople are serious about it.″

Among those backing an earlier closing time are John Vollrath Sr., whose son, John, was killed in the beating last February, and Police Chief Robert Davenport.

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