The rural Upstate New York town of Seneca largely lives and dies by income from its landfill. Yet that county landfill is due to close in 2028, so the town — about halfway between Syracuse and Rochester — had to start thinking about other ways to pay for government operations, town Supervisor John Sheppard says.

Instead of trash, Seneca is turning its eye to alcohol. Residents in November voted to reverse the town’s prohibition against the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption that dated to the early 1800s.

Seneca is among the last municipalities to end Prohibition, nearly 80 years after it ended nationally. Though numerous communities across the USA still have local laws banning or partially banning alcohol, those numbers are shrinking.

Tracking the dry communities and referendums across the USA is difficult, says Ben Jenkins, vice president of government communications for the Washington, D.C.-based Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. But based on monitoring that the liquor industry trade group does, plus anecdotal evidence, “There’s definitely a growing trend of local communities rolling back their blue laws,” Jenkins says.

In November, 25 out of 28 alcohol measures in Texas passed, he says. And since 2004, when state laws changed to make it easier to get referendums on the ballot, 450 out of 576 votes on alcohol sales have passed there, he says.

Plano, Texas, could be next, as a petition drive is underway now to get a measure on the ballot in May that would open the doors to retailers selling liquor. Allowing liquor stores or other retailers to carry liquor would keep sales tax revenue in Plano that currently goes to neighboring communities and also allow area restaurants and bars more choices as state law requires them to buy from in-county suppliers, Plano Mayor Phil Dyer says.

“I’m optimistic it’ll pass,” he says.

Dry-town votes are following similar election trends in other alcohol regulations. Since 2002, 16 states have passed bills allowing for Sunday alcohol sales, according to the council. Last year, the state of Connecticut began allowing such sales. In 2011, more than 100 individual communities in Georgia approved Sunday sales.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving spokesman Nick Ellinger says the advocacy group has no problems with such regulatory loosening as long as people being sold alcohol are above age 21 and aren’t being served to the point of intoxication.

“We don’t get involved in ‘wet’ vs. ‘dry’ issues,” he says.

Although numerous communities stay dry for philosophical, religious or sociological reasons, “the reasons why dry is going away are economic,” says Eric Shepard, editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a beer industry trade publication. “Liquor sales bring tax revenue. Tough times squeeze dry counties as well as wet counties.”

Maryland state Sen. Karen Montgomery, a Democrat, says she was approached by a number of Damascus, Md., residents “who were tired of driving out of town to have a beer or glass of wine with dinner.”

Montgomery was one of the lawmakers behind legislation allowing Damascus residents to vote this past November on allowing the sale of wine and beer.

“When ‘demon rum’ was king, you didn’t have OxyContin, you didn’t have some of the abuses of other prescription drugs,” Montgomery says. “Alcohol looks a lot less worse by comparison.”

Though not to everyone. Galen Pearcy, pastor at Radiant Life Church in Fayetteville, Ark., was a vocal opponent of a successful ballot initiative last fall in Benton County allowing retail sales of alcohol.

Pearcy says he “was so shocked that so many of our residents choose to go ‘wet.’ It’s a travesty to our community but it’s over, we lost. I have nothing else to say about it.”

Source: USA Today


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