Business Leaders in Vineyard Haven Pitch Plan to Allow Sale of Beer, Wine

By MARK ALAN LOVEWELL

A new initiative to allow the sale of alcohol in Vineyard Haven landed without warning in front of the Tisbury selectmen this week. At their regular meeting Tuesday the board received for review a draft article that would allow restaurants to sell beer and wine to patrons.

The plan to convert Vineyard Haven from a dry to a wet town has the backing of a group of local business owners and also the Tisbury Business Association.

Jeff Kristal, president of the business association and co-owner of the Crocker House Inn, submitted the draft article to the selectmen. Tuesday was the deadline for annual town meeting articles endorsed by the selectmen.

But two of the three selectmen said they were reluctant to endorse the warrant article, arguing instead that it should be submitted by citizen petition.

Selectman Tristan Israel urged his colleagues to accept the article for the annual town meeting warrant, but selectman and board chairman Tom Pachico refused.

"They should do it," Mr. Pachico said, referring to the business owners who drafted the article.

"That is their responsibility," agreed selectman Ray LaPorte. Lifting up the one-page document and dropping it on the table, Mr. LaPorte said the article had only been handed to them minutes before the meeting. He said he had not even had time to read it.

"I move to put it on the warrant," Mr. Israel said, but there was no second to the motion.

"I don't think this is a selectmen's article," Mr. Pachico said.

"You are basically killing it," Mr. Israel replied.

After the meeting, Mr. Israel told the Gazette he is open to the idea of beer and wine sales at restaurants in town, but he said he believes the article needs to be rewritten. He said selectmen have heard many ideas floated around town about bringing extra revenue into town coffers. Beer and wine might work, Mr. Israel said. "I am opposed to any form of bar or hard liquor," he added.

Local businesses have been pushing for the sale of beer and wine in town in restaurants for several years, Mr. Kristal said. Owners of restaurants like the Black Dog Tavern, LeGrenier and Zephrus at the Mansion House support the idea. Mr. Kristal said directors at the business association voted four months ago to support the concept.

Mr. Kristal said the town is losing a lot of business to the two down-Island towns where alcohol is sold. "The costs associated with running a year-round business in the last two years have soared. Insurance has nearly doubled. The amount of visitors and traffic coming to the Island is declining. We keep losing more and more residents to restaurants outside of town," Mr. Kristal said, adding:

"We'd like to see our year-round businesses remain year-round businesses. This is not going to change the character of the town."

Currently patrons of Vineyard Haven restaurants bring their own alcohol.

The process to allow the sale of alcohol in town is lengthy and begins with a town meeting vote. State approval is also required. Among the 350 cities and towns in Massachusetts, 17 are dry, including four of the six towns on the Vineyard.

"I think this is a give-and-take process with plenty of dialogue that should be forthcoming in the next six months," Mr. Kristal said.

Mr. Israel said he believes selling beer and wine would not change the character of the town.

Sherman Goldstein, who owns the Mansion House with his wife, Susan, spoke out strongly for the change. "I favor it and it makes good financial and social sense for the town. But I am also aware that I am not a Vineyard Haven voter. I have full faith in the democratic process and it needs to be reviewed and processed and looked at for benefits," said Mr. Goldstein, who lives in West Tisbury.

The discussion about selling alcohol in Vineyard Haven has surfaced before, but never gained traction.

The first record of a tavern on the Vineyard goes back to 1677 when Lieut. Isaac Chase of Holmes Hole was granted a license to keep a "publike house of entertainment," according to Banks.