Thirsty Tisbury wants to know - to drink or not is the question
As a first step in evaluating the possible effects of beer and wine sales in Vineyard Haven restaurants, a town-appointed review committee will survey 600 registered Tisbury businesses over the next few weeks.
Since its start-up last month, Tisbury's beer and wine review committee (BWRC) put together a seven-question survey. The committee plans to mail the survey to a list of Tisbury's 600 registered businesses sometime next week, with a deadline of March 20 for its return. The Tisbury selectmen okayed $250 in postage costs Tuesday night.
Although beer and wine sales would affect only a small number of restaurants or establishments, the committee wants input from the business community at large, since the issue affects the whole town.
A cover letter accompanying the survey explains that the committee's purpose is to evaluate all costs, benefits, and effects on the character of the town that might result from the sale of beer and wine in local restaurants.
The survey asks whether beer and wine sales would have a positive or negative effect on business, quantifying increases or decreases in net revenues and staffing, and in hours and season of operation.
"We are trying to identify the revenue benefits to businesses and the town, as well as the costs to the town, so that everyone can make an informed decision not based just on emotion," said John Coskie, committee vice chairman, who works for the Bank of Martha's Vineyard.
Last fall, Stephen Perlman, president of the Tisbury Business Association (TBA), asked the selectmen to appoint the committee to study the potential impact of alcohol sales on the town, at the request of TBA members who supported a proposal to allow the limited sale of beer and wine in local Vineyard Haven restaurants.
The selectmen appointed nine volunteers to serve on the BWRC in January, after interviewing them to ensure a balance in viewpoints. The committee was tasked to weigh the benefits versus the detriments of selling beer and wine in restaurants, including the impact on Tisbury's quality of life.
At the committee's meeting last week, Mr. Coskie said that the state sets a quota for beer and wine licenses based on population. Although Vineyard Haven is under the minimum threshold of 5,000 residents, the state would allow five full beer and wine licenses and an unlimited number of seasonal licenses. Those run from April 1 to November 30, unless extended at the discretion of the town to no later than Jan. 15 of the following year.
Another question is whether restaurant patrons will want to give up their current option of bringing their own bottles of wine or beer, a practice that many argue saves money. If Vineyard Haven chooses to license beer and wine sales, that option would go away.
In addition to conducting the business survey, the committee plans to interview various town officials, including the harbormaster, fire and police chiefs, DPW director, high school principal, and chairmen of the Finance and Advisory Committee and Planning Board for their assessments of how alcohol sales will impact their departments and budgets.
At a meeting a few weeks ago, the committee invited Gary Cogley, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, to share his personal opinions about beer and wine sales in Tisbury. He told them that while the sales might not significantly increase town revenues, they might boost employment and hotel and inn occupancy, and bring added vitality to the town.
"It is unusual for tourists to go into a fine restaurant and order a $25 to $30 entrée and not be able to have a glass of beer or wine with that dinner," Mr. Cogley said in a phone interview last week. "All in all, I think it is a step in the right direction from a commercial standpoint that will add viability in attracting the kinds of tourists we would like to have here."
The concept of "bring your own bottle" is unfamiliar to many tourists, he said. "We encourage them not to bring cars here, and then they find have to take a taxi or bus to Oak Bluffs or Edgartown to purchase a bottle of wine to drink with dinner in a Vineyard Haven restaurant."
In addition to scheduling interviews, the BWRC plans to contact other Massachusetts cities and towns that have changed from "dry" to "wet" recently - such as Arlington, Harvard, Lancaster, and Rockport - to find out what impacts their residents have noticed.
Rockport, which went "wet" in April 2005, shares many similarities in its alcohol sales provisions with those proposed for Vineyard Haven. Although Rockport's sales are not limited to beer and wine, under its new regulations, no bars and liquor stores are allowed in town. Alcohol may be served only at licensed restaurants, when accompanied by a meal. Potato chips, corn chips, nuts or pretzels do not count as a meal.
Turning to a discussion of "quality of life," Mr. Coskie asked the committee whether they were looking to redefine Vineyard Haven's role as a year-round town and port of entry.
John Jones, an independent contractor and committee member, questioned whether the town is losing tourists and heading downhill economically. He asked, "Should we change to be different or transform to keep up?" The fear of some residents, he said, is that beer and wine sales will open up "a crack in the door" that would allow an easy progression to full liquor sales.
Paul Currier, who attended the meeting because of his interest in offering beer and wine at his restaurant, Café Moxie, challenged the committee, "Do you want the downtown to remain a downtown or become a parking lot for the Steamship Authority?"
The committee plans to host a public forum in the first or second week of May to present the results of the business survey and offer Tisbury residents the opportunity to express their opinions.