Bring Your Own
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
If you would like a drink with your meal in a Vineyard Haven restaurant, you can do that now.
Why risk the possibility of losing control of the way our quiet, safe town develops by voting to serve beer and wine.
Once Tisbury is not dry, it is not dry forever.
After you vote on April 15 to keep Tisbury dry, you can take your beer or wine with you and go to dinner in many of our local restaurants.
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
I am a grateful washashore and have been a resident of Martha’s Vineyard for 12 years and of Vineyard Haven for nine. I live in town and love it here. I love the harbor, the history, William street, Tashmoo and the West Chop Woods.
I especially love the character of this sweet, quiet, but very vibrant town. I believe that if alcohol is legally served here, the character and atmosphere of Vineyard Haven will begin to change and it will continue to change over time. Serving wine and beer with dinner will begin in a few places and expand to others; eventually there will be bars serving mixed drinks here, then liquor stores. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with any of that, but do we really want more than one Circuit avenue on this small Island? Or another Edgartown? One of the great charms of the Vineyard is that each of its six towns is unique and wonderful in its own way. We’ve seen resort areas all over the country and elsewhere become generic. Let’s not let that happen to our beautiful Island or to Vineyard Haven.
Please vote on April 15 and when you do, please help us vote to keep Vineyard Haven a dry town, as it has been since 1830.
I write this letter concerning the beer and wine question that will appear on the April 15 ballot for the town of Tisbury. The question will ask the voters of Tisbury to approve or reject a proposal that would allow the board of selectmen to license restaurants with a seating capacity for 30 or more persons to sell beer and wine to customers as part of their purchase of a meal. The proposal was approved by the town meeting last spring and the state legislature has authorized the placing of the question on the ballot this coming spring.
I drafted a proposal for the Tisbury Business Association (along with a study of other towns that had adopted similar provisions) in substantially the same form that was adopted by town meeting and will appear on the ballot. I was asked to do so because of my longtime involvement in the regulation of sales and distribution of alcoholic beverages in Massachusetts. My experience started as an assistant attorney general whose duties included providing legal counsel to the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission and serving as the governor’s representative on a state legislative committee that substantially rewrote the laws relating to the distribution of alcohol in the late 1960s. Between 1969 and 1972 I served as chairman of the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission. I am a practicing lawyer on the Island and in Boston where I spend significant time representing large hotel and restaurant chains (none of whom are on the Island) making sure that they comply with a large and sometimes unnecessarily complex body of laws relating to alcohol distribution.
Because of my background there are those who will accuse me of being biased. I would like to think that my experience makes me informed and that my information and experience overcomes whatever biases I might have. I am also a resident of Tisbury who is motivated by acting in a manner that I perceive to be in the best interest of the community. I also write this letter in reaction to some of the comments reported by our local newspapers last week on the recent public meeting on the proposal at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. I have not been asked by the Tisbury Business Association to write this letter.
I have lived in other communities where members of the community have struggled with similar questions and doubts raised by those who participated in the meeting before authorizing proposals similar to the one the voters of Tisbury will be asked to pass on. One was Needham, essentially a dry town until 2001 that now has a handful of thriving restaurants serving alcoholic beverages that residents welcome. It has not changed the basic fiber of the community. If anything it is a more vital town with a more stable business base that embraces the restaurants located there.
More recently Rockport a community much like Tisbury authorized the sale of alcoholic beverages. In the first two years of sales in that community there is general consensus that the change was positive. There are in fact only 12 towns in Massachusetts out of 351 cities and towns that continue to be dry. Two years ago the count was 14. Four of the remaining 12 towns are on the Vineyard including Tisbury, West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah (about to go wet.) The others are Gosnold and bedroom communities like Weston which have little if any business community to consider.
Tisbury is a business community with many businesses that struggles for existence. I have great difficulty with those who suggest that only the business community will be served, as if that is not an important concern for the rest of us. We are all part of the community and if there is only one butcher, baker, optometrist or limited number of restaurants that will benefit from this or any other proposal, isn’t it our obligation to assist those businesses? Won’t their success benefit the rest of us? It doesn’t take great vision to see that the business areas of Tisbury do not have the stability and vitality (particularly in the summer) of Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Busloads of people who land on the ferry in Vineyard Haven are shuttled for luncheons and dinners in those towns because they cannot buy a glass of wine in Tisbury. I cannot guarantee that the sale of beer and wine by restaurants will bring stability, but it should be self evident that our restaurants have a greater chance of success by being able to serve beer and wine.
Stable restaurants often lead to stable neighborhoods. As an example I point to the city of Boston particularly in the Copley Square, Faneuil Hall and Newbury street areas where outside dining with alcoholic beverages attracts untold numbers of visitors in the summer. Ten, fifteen years ago the city of Boston did not allow outdoor service for much of the same types of fears articulated by those opposed to beer and wine in Tisbury. These are the same types of fears that have been articulated to alcohol consumption since the repeal of prohibition, like excessive drinking, sales to minors, disorderly conduct, additional duties for our police and on and on. I do not suggest that there will be no problems or that these are not legitimate concerns that should be debated, but history has taught us that these types of problems are manageable and that we ought to be acting for the greater good. Few people would disagree that the decision by the city of Boston to allow outside dining with alcoholic beverages has stabilized what were deteriorating areas of the city. Authorizing Tisbury restaurants to sell beer and wine may stabilize our business community.
One gentleman was quoted in the Gazette article as saying he was an old Yankee who didn’t want change. Those who traveled on the Mayflower were our original Yankees and history tells us that the only reason they stopped in Plymouth was that they had run out of beer that had fueled their travel from England and that they were hoping to find it in Plymouth. Change is not the issue. Stabilizing our business community and supporting the members of the business community is the issue.
There were conflicting reports on the views of the selectmen on the subject. To their collective credit the selectmen were the ones who began the process by bringing the proposal before the town meeting last spring. If all of the selectmen are not clear in their preference by this time, they should be. We look to our political leaders for guidance on the assumption that in the course of performing their duties they have had more opportunity than the rest of us to consider and think about the ramifications of proposals such as the one in question. They will after all be the ones that will administer the law if enacted. There is still time for all the selectmen to take a position and I would urge all of them to do so even if their opinion does not comport with mine. For me it is clear Tisbury should get in step with the rest of the commonwealth and most of the world. I urge the voters of Tisbury to vote yes for the proposal even if you believe that the proposal will only benefit the business community. Your affirmative vote will support the proposition that we are all one community acting for the common good.
A Dry Town’s Heritage
Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
On April 15 the citizens of Tisbury will be asked to decide for the fifth time in 40 years whether or not to retain its distinctive heritage as a dry town. This is a distinction that the town has continued to affirm since it was first voted in its annual town meeting in 1830.
The village of Holmes Hole, as Vineyard Haven was then known, was noted for its hospitality and its nautical skill and heroism “from Nova Scotia to the Mississippi.” (1782) All five of its inns continued to prosper during that time. The Mansion House, despite two devastating fires, remains to this day “a house of entertainment, . . . full of comfort, tidiness, and snugness,” as described in Harper’s Magazine in the 1870s.
Our town has continued to be celebrated for its simplicity, its integrity, its authenticity, but most important of all, for its independence. That means primarily not being dependent upon anything other than the strength and genuineness of our own character. Freedom from dependency of any sort was and still is today a vital attribute of our being a community.
Gratia Harrington was at the forefront of opposition to every attempt in the 20th century to change our historic dry town bylaw. Throughout her life of over 100 years many remember her as most articulate and dedicated about the need to honor and preserve the character of our town.
It is to honor Gratia as well as our own distinctive heritage as a coastal town that we should affirm and sustain our character. Let us not diminish it by taking on a dependency on the sale of alcohol that can only diminish who we are.