West Tisbury must halt wine and beer service at fundraisers


West Tisbury, one of the nine remaining dry towns in Massachusetts, just got a lot dryer. Selectman last week confirmed that the town could no longer allow alcohol to be served at events at which there is a ticket charge.

The ruling would affect nonprofit fundraisers and gallery openings intended to benefit organizations. These would include the Vineyard Nursing Association fundraiser and clambake, held last July at the Field Gallery, and events at the Ag Hall, where wine has traditionally been served.

The issue arose following a permit request last summer from Divas Uncorked, a Boston area based wine group that sponsored a four-day food and wine festival last August. The request and subsequent questions prompted an inquiry to Ron Rappaport, town attorney, who explained that the town could not legally allow alcohol to be served at events where money has changed hands.

Selectman Cynthia Mitchell highlighted the point during discussion last Wednesday. “The sale of alcohol at these events in the past has not been completely legal,” she said, “and now that we know what it is, it is going to change perhaps the pattern of some of these nonprofits, these fundraisers occurring in town, no matter where they occur. ”

The nub of it is that West Tisbury does not allow the sale of alcohol, and so it cannot issue a permit for an event where alcohol will be served when money will change hands.

“The issue is that West Tisbury is a dry town, and so alcohol can not be sold here,” Ms. Mitchell said.

“That has some pretty big implications,” selectman chairman Richard Knabel said.

Ripple effect

The Grange Hall, owned by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, and the Ag Hall, owned by the Agricultural Society, are popular venues for events at which wine and beer is served. Town administrator Jennifer Rand said that the town has begun the process of notifying managers of public venues and sponsors of events that the practice must be halted.

Chris Scott, executive director of the Preservation Trust, said he has been in contact with several organizations that use trust facilities to discuss the change is use.

“I certainly understand and appreciate the letter of the law is what it is,” Mr. Scott said. “But a lot of nonprofits and community groups are going to have to adjust their events to comply with this new enforcement.”

Mr. Scott expects the overall effect to be minimal. “I think most people who attend these community events and nonprofit events go to support the cause as opposed to an opportunity to imbibe,” he said, “and I would certainly expect that support will still be there.”

Eleanor Neubert, Agricultural Society fair manager, said the number of events the Ag Hall hosts is limited. “I don’t think it will have much of an effect on what we do at the Ag Hall,” she said.

The focus on the rules governing alcohol service comes against the backdrop of an effort to permit the sale of beer and wine in West Tisbury restaurants. Aquinnah and Tisbury recently allowed limited alcoholic beverage sales, leaving only West Tisbury and Chilmark dry.

The annual town meeting warrant includes an article submitted by petition that would begin the multiple step approval process needed to permit the sale of beer and wine. If that article is approved, Mr. Rappaport has advised selectmen that it be amended to allow selectmen to issue one-day liquor licenses to nonprofits holding events in non-restaurant venues.

Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said that he wants to discuss and approve the language now being drafted by Mr. Rappaport before town meeting.

For now, it is BYOB. “If people bring their own bottle, it works,” Mrs. Mitchell said. Ticket holders must keep the alcohol in their possession, serve it themselves, and take it home.

All organizations planning a public event must have a town permit. In a follow-up conversation, Ms. Rand said she recently sent letters to Island organizations explaining the procedures for permitting and advising of the changes regarding alcohol.

‘Primarily, if there is a fee for the event, no alcohol may be served,” Ms. Rand wrote. “The rules are somewhat complicated, so I would advise that if anyone is planning an event with alcohol they should call me at 508-696-0102, and I will help them understand what they can and cannot do.”