Editorial: The beer/wine question, again

The debate raged for years over whether Tisbury would allow the sale of beer and wine with meals in restaurants. The voters ultimately said yes, and the earth may have wobbled a smidge in its orbit, but it has steadied itself since.

Now, West Tisbury will answer the question, with the modest additional urgency contributed by the unexpected discovery that for years the town’s dry character has been violated by the town itself, as it has issued permits for public, for a fee, events of all sorts, at which alcohol would be served.

Town counsel has advised that the practice oversteps what the law permits a dry town to do. Perhaps Chilmark will need to confront the issue as well. Ticketed events where alcohol is served are allowed there too.

One imagines handsomely turned-out donors attending a fundraiser at the Ag Hall obliged to wear one of those hiker’s camel packs with the beer and wine contained within and dispensed through a plastic tube into recyclable paper cups carried in a specially designed side compartment easily reached by members of the donor’s party. It may be asking too much.

Commonly, the two sides of the should-we-or-shouldn’t-we question about alcohol have stuck to their legacy arguments. The national and Island economic conditions have increased the temperature on the question, but no new facts have been adduced. What guidance there is for voters to rely on as they make their decisions suggests that calamitous forecasts are unwarranted. Indeed, there is no factual basis or widely held opinion, only sentiment, that supports the notion that this is a dangerous choice for a town to make.

The only challenges to this benign conclusion have been unsupported, especially the charge that town selectmen, should the question pass, cannot be trusted to make disinterested, responsible decisions about the beer/wine question or the licensing of restaurants, and, now, private events held intermittently in public venues. The selectmen may reasonably be judged to be devoted to the town they lead, and they know that if beer and wine sales are allowed, their constituents will be vigilant to be sure there is careful management of the licensing.

It certainly seems irrational for a town to permit its stance on beer and wine sales to inhibit, even in a modest sense, the important efforts of community minded organizations to encourage and reward supporters, especially during what has become the peak season for appealing to generous Islanders and visitors.

It seems irrational too to prevent well-managed restaurant businesses from enjoying the prospective enhancement of their business models that beer and wine sales promise.

And, finally, it seems irrational in the extreme to allow what is actually a simple question to become the focus of difficult and extended debate, town by town, year after year.

The view here remains that allowing limited beer and wine sales, according to rules carefully tailored by the selectmen to fit the kind of town West Tisbury is, will be a convenience to town residents, an enhancement to town visitors, a modest boost for town businesses and other important organizations, all without changing West Tisbury significantly, except perhaps for the better.