Wet or dry
Peter Beacham, who helped change Rockport, Mass., from a dry to a wet town, confirms what Tisbury voters have heard many times and in a variety of forms over the past year: allowing beer and wine sales in restaurants does not transform or distort a small community. Indeed, permitting carefully monitored and limited alcohol sales may improve the lives of townspeople and visitors and the fortunes of town business owners. Mr. Beacham was guest speaker at the Tisbury Business Association's annual dinner on March 13.
Tisbury voters will be asked on April 10, at their annual town meeting, to charge the selectmen with filing a home rule petition in the state legislature to allow the sale of beer and wine, within certain limits.
If Tisbury approves the April 10 question, then the state legislature must act on the petition, and if it passes at the State House, the question comes back to Tisbury for final action on the state election ballot.
Rockport is bigger than Tisbury, but like Tisbury, Rockport is a seaside town with a significant tourist economy. Mr. Beacham described the view of many Rockport residents as tolerant of the possibility of allowing beer and wine sales, but worried about how it would be limited and policed. That sounds familiar. The committee to consider the alcohol question, wisely established by Tisbury selectmen, found similar interest and similar concerns in its examination of the question. The committee also heard no forecasts of certain calamity from town leaders or safety officials. At the same time, the prognosis for an enormous upswing in business activity, because finally you could buy a beer in town, was limited.
The view here is that allowing limited beer and wine sales, according to rules carefully tailored to fit the kind of town Tisbury is, will be a convenience to town residents, an enhancement to town visitors, and a boost for town businesses, all without changing Tisbury significantly, except perhaps for the better.
Mr. Beacham, chairman of Rockport's economic development committee (a job that is no doubt safer in Rockport than it would be in Tisbury on Martha's Vineyard, where attitudes toward business success are historically frosty) told his audience that beer and wine won't, by themselves, make an economic miracle out of Tisbury. But, Tisbury may not need, and certainly doesn't want, such a transformation.
"It's one small step in trying to rebuild the economy in town," Mr. Beacham said. "I think you'll have less vacant stores and more activity in town."
Rockport shaped the rules governing beer and wine sales in terms similar to those discussed in Tisbury, such as permitting restaurants and inns to keep BYOB policies if they choose to do so.
But writing the rules will, one hopes, come later. Now, the key to success on the part of supporters of the change from dry to wet is communication with voters. The town's efforts, stimulated by business owners, have been detailed, sensible, and productive. Now, the wider effort, to be made before April 10, is to engage voters in the decision making. The supporters have a large store of research that will be persuasive, if it can be put in front of voters between now and town meeting. The bet here is that voters who understand the issues and the possibilities are likely to be supporters of the warrant article.