Aquinnah set to decide on sale of beer and wine
On Monday, Governor Deval Patrick signed legislation that would allow for the sale of beer and wine in Aquinnah. Voter approval at the annual town election on Wednesday, May 14, is the last step in the effort to draw the cork on the town's longstanding prohibition on alcohol sales.
Last spring voters authorized selectmen to submit a home rule petition to the Legislature granting to town officials the authority to issue licenses for the sale of beer and wine on premises to restaurants that seat 15 people or more.
There are currently only two restaurants that fit into that category. The Aquinnah Shop located on top of the Gay Head cliffs and the Outermost Inn restaurant off Lighthouse Road.
Both are seasonal establishments owned by town residents with strong connections to the community. Currently patrons must bring their own beer or wine.
That can come as quite a surprise to visitors who are unaware that outside of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs there is no place to legally purchase alcohol in any of the four other Island towns.
Unlike many towns where the issue of beer and wine sales has spurred study committees and full-scale campaigns by various interest groups, the effort to overturn Aquinnah's prohibition on beer and wine sales has been decidedly nonchalant (See sidebar on Tisbury effort).
Hugh Taylor, co-owner with his wife Jeanne of the Outermost Inn, is responsible for putting the issue before voters. Mr. Taylor gathered the required number of signatures on an initiative petition to place the question on the ballot in the November 2006 election.
The petition and a letter he distributed to some town voters was the entire campaign Mr. Taylor waged. The question took many voters by surprise. Still, it failed by only two votes.
The selectmen said it was evident people were interested in the issue. At a March special town meeting selectmen presented voters with a request to place a question on the annual town election ballot authorizing selectmen to seek legislative approval to permit restaurants to serve beer and wine.
The only debate focused on the seat limit of "not less than 30 people" included in the warrant article.
Voters objected saying it was unfair to small establishments. The question as amended passed by a vote of 38 to 14.
In May voters took the plunge and approved the ballot question by a vote of 132 - 79.
The fact that Aquinnah may overturn a prohibition that is more than a century old is significant, said Spencer Booker, Aquinnah selectman, and an indication of changing town culture.
Mr. Booker, natural resource officer for the Wampanoag Tribe, said yesterday he expects voters to support the change. He said that as the town has changed and grown more diverse there has been an increasing acceptance that allowing beer and wine to be served would be conducive to good will and good business.
Camille Rose, chairman of the Aquinnah board of selectmen, said she thinks voters will receive the change happily. "Certainly the reception to the idea at the town meeting where it was brought to a vote was enthusiastic and the ballot question did very well," she said yesterday. "I don't think it is going to change our lives in any way, but it will be a convenience for our visitors."