MILTON — The city has allowed Sunday alcohol sales since Feb. 14; Santa Rosa County, north of the Yellow River, has done the same since Feb. 23.

To varying degrees, restaurant owners are seeing business growth.

Joe Abston, who owns Tin Cow restaurants in Pensacola and Pace, planned to close the Pace location if Sunday sales had not passed in Santa Rosa County.

“It was not even a conversation but a decision made,” Abston said.

The county’s south end, where Sunday alcohol selling was previously legal, was far enough away that it wouldn’t have affected Tin Cow’s Sunday business. However, if Milton’s ordinance had passed but not the county’s, then competition on Sunday would have been much closer.

“That means someone in Pace … could drive to Milton city limits in four minutes and … go to a place to have a beer on Sunday,” Abston said.

Sunday alcohol sales have brought a tangible difference to the Blackwater Bistro in Milton. The restaurant at 5147 Elmira St. has five new positions because of the law change, according to manager Glenn Hill.

“We wouldn’t be open Sundays,” Hill said. “The only reason now is because we can sell alcohol. It’s the only reason people are coming versus going to the beach or downtown Pensacola.”

Hill described a domino effect of one business’s increase spreading to those nearby.

“The value of business goes up,” Hill said. “The value of the land it sits on … goes up. The insurance rates go up. The business license will go up, (all) because of that one measure.”

The rule change may also invite restaurant chains that previously bypassed Santa Rosa County, according to Santa Rosa Economic Development Director Shannon Ogletree.

“Olive Garden, Lone Star Steakhouse (and) Red Lobster, those three … have sniffed around here before. It’s been a few years,” he said.

Karl and Dana Evertz moved their Beef ‘O’Brady’s location back to 4275 Woodbine Road in Pace after choosing not to renew their Pensacola license. The couple did not move to Pace specifically because Sunday alcohol sales became legal; Evertz said a DirecTV sports package draws customers.

“We’ve had NFL Sunday Ticket for 16 years,” Evertz said. “It’s an expensive package but it lasts four to five months. We expect to be busy on Sundays because we have that package and, if people want to buy beer, that’s okay too.”

Sunday alcohol sales opponents expressed fears of an increase in drunk driving. Because the measure went into effect in Milton and Santa Rosa County so recently, it’s too soon to draw a connection between the rule change and any change in DUI numbers, according to Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Rich Aloy.

However, there was no significant increase in DUI arrests when the county first allowed alcohol sales in 2007, according to Aloy.