(WMC) – A new late-night Saturday cover charge on Beale Street has merchants defending themselves against accusations that the measure is based on race.
Beale Street Merchants Association President Ty Agee says a Saturday night cover charge and earlier closing time isn't about race — it's about crowd control, crime, and safety.
"It's been fast and furious. You've got a lot of people for it [the cover charge], you've got a lot of people against it," Agee said. "Nobody wanted to do it, it was something we had to do out of necessity."
Agee has been getting calls and email complaints about the $10 entry fee that kicks in at midnight on Saturdays. Some say it targets a late night influx of younger, predominantly African-American patrons.
"That's it. The end. No other conspiracy theory or back story to that, it just was too much," Agee explained.
Memphis police tell Agee there has been a 50 percent reduction in crime on Beale in the past two weeks. The earlier closing time is costing merchants money, but it's revenue they're willing to sacrifice to preserve the safety and reputation of the most iconic street in America.
"I mean, it's really easy to sit back and say, 'We're not going to do anything because we don't want to take any heat,' or you can do the right thing and try to make it better." Agee added.
The cover charge will be implemented on an as-needed basis during busier weekends, but will likely stop during historically slower months of the year.