Tisbury selectmen put liquor sales on the ballot

Tisbury residents will decide in May if Vineyard Haven restaurants can sell liquor in addition to beer and wine. Selectmen Larry Gomez (left), Melinda Loberg, and Tristan Israel. —Stacey Rupolo

Townsfolk and visitors may be a step closer to enjoying a cocktail in Vineyard Haven. Tisbury selectmen agreed to put the question of the sale of all alcoholic beverages in restaurants, including restaurants in hotels, before voters on May 9.

Selectman Larry Gomez put the question to the selectmen Tuesday, and he, chairman Melinda Loberg, and selectman Tristan Israel voted to ask voters for a decision.

“We’re excited that what the townspeople voted on at town meeting is going to be on the ballot, because it’s the voice of the residents who approved it resoundingly,” Jon Blau told The Times on Wednesday.

Mr. Blau, who has been an Island business owner for more than two decades, owns Copper Wok in Vineyard Haven, as well as Sharky’s Cantina in both Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, and Martha’s Vineyard Chowder Co. and the Loft in Oak Bluffs.

Many residents believe the greatest economic impact of prohibiting liquor sales is on the hotel owners, retail owners, and restaurant owners.

“So we’re excited to start the process and continue rallying the town support that’s already there, to make sure in May we get it passed and get everyone to vote yes on Question 4, for the spirit of Vineyard Haven,” Mr. Blau said.

The legislation expands permission for liquor sales to current licensees, but will not add new licenses. Tisbury could issue a total of 19 restaurant permits, although only a handful of restaurants now operate in the town. Permitted restaurants must have a seating for no fewer than 30, and beverages must be consumed with meals, a requirement that would not change if the licenses included liquor sales, selectmen said.

“It’s a very small step,” Mr. Blau said. “Everything is still the same as it is now, with zero problems in six years, so we’re very confident.”

Gov. Charlie Baker signed legislation on Jan. 5 that expands current beer and wine licenses for restaurants in Tisbury to offer the sale of liquor. The decision still had to be voted on, either in state or local elections. The selectmen’s vote on Tuesday night was to determine whether to put it on the ballot for local election, or wait until 2018 for the statewide election.

“Why wait?” Ms. Loberg said in a conversation with The Times in January.   “Why make businesses wait through another two seasons when people want it on the ballot?”