A public meeting held by the Chilmark selectmen this week saw vocal opposition to the idea of alcohol sales in restaurants.
Chilmark is the last dry town on the Vineyard. The selectmen received a letter of interest two weeks ago from Bob and Sarah Nixon, owners of the Menemsha and Beach Plum Inns and the Home Port Restaurant, about allowing alcohol sales in restaurants.
At a standing room-only meeting on Tuesday, the selectmen opened discussion on the topic.
“The board of selectmen has not taken any position,” selectman and chairman Warren Doty said. “This is an issue we need to debate and that’s why we’re here tonight.”
For the proposal to move forward, the town would have to file a home rule petition with the state legislature asking to place a question on the ballot at the annual town election. To file the petition, first a town meeting article must be approved by voters. A special town meeting is scheduled for Oct. 21, but it is unclear whether the question will appear on the warrant.
On Tuesday Mr. Nixon advocated for change. “Chilmark is now the only town that doesn’t allow the sale of alcohol in restaurants; I wanted to start this discussion and see what people think,” he said. “As a business owner, I think it would be helpful. I don’t like change so much but I think what’s changed is the other towns have now voted to allow it so it seems it’s time for us to catch up.”
Chilmark resident Paul Iantosca agreed. “We should get with it and get up to date and allow our restaurants in Chilmark to make a little extra margin,” he said. “It could be a valuable asset to add to our town.”
Prior to five years ago, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown were the only towns that sold alcohol.
In 2010, after heated debate and two ballots, the town of Tisbury voted to allow the sale of beer and wine in restaurants. West Tisbury followed suit last year. Aquinnah quietly adopted its own measure in 2008.
But in Chilmark Tuesday night most of the sentiment went against the idea.
Merrily Fenner said she and her husband Frank Fenner, who own the Galley across the street from the Home Port, were “vehemently opposed” to the request. “If you want to say this is in response because we’re upset with us as competition, it’s true, but we welcome healthy competition and get along with other businesses in town,” she said. “We want to keep Menemsha as it is, different from the other towns and proud of it being rural, charming and exclusive. What is the harm in that?”
Mr. Fenner, who is a former selectman, read from a prepared statement and posed a lengthy list of questions.
“I’m more interested in protecting the Menemsha that we all love rather than creating a profit source for a business,” he said. “Are the town leaders willing to gamble with the character of Menemsha, up until now we worked so hard to preserve? At this point it is your decision.”
Wayne Iacono agreed.
“I think Chilmark ought to remain unique, everyone loves it here and then they have to change it to the way it is where they came from — what’s up with that?” he said. “Let’s remain unique and keep it simple.”
Leonard Jason Jr. said allowing alcohol sales will benefit a “select few.”
“I think I drank as much as anybody, some might even say more,” said Mr. Jason, who no longer drinks, “but I don’t see where the town benefits from going wet. Patrons are going to be more restricted to what they can drink — it’s going to be a house wine and not bring your great new bottle you found.”
The selectmen took no action, but when Mr. Doty called for a show of hands, only two went up in support of the idea.
“This is a sampling but ultimately it’s what the town residents want Chilmark to be,” said selectman Bill Rossi.
The day after the meeting, Mr. Nixon said the level of opposition caught him by surprise.
“I think we may start a little canvassing effort at the restaurant and talking to people,” he said.