‘Dry as you can get’ town faces wet vote

Posted Oct. 29, 2009, at 9:53 p.m.

FRIENDSHIP, Maine — The Archie Wallace store is the only market in town, selling everything from gas to sandwiches to fresh fruits and vegetables. But one thing that the lobstermen and summer people who shop here can’t buy is alcohol, and that has made business tough, said owners Ernie and Joan Coletti.

“Selling beer and wine would increase revenues,” Ernie Coletti said Thursday. “More importantly, it would increase stuff we sell along with the beer and wine. A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of small stores like ours are in a bad position.”

Three recent attempts to overturn the ban on alcohol sales failed in 1987, 1992 and 2000, when residents voted against a reversal 533-202.

The Colettis hope that the fourth time will be the charm. Residents will decide again Tuesday whether to allow alcohol to be sold within town limits — a choice that has left some in the community more bemused than anything else.

“I find it kind of unusual in this day and age that a town is still dry,” said the Rev. Bob Dorr of the Friendship United Methodist Church.

The community, which counted 1,204 residents at the last census, has been a “dry” town at least since Prohibition began in 1919. Town Clerk Joel Fearn said that sales of all types of alcohol are not allowed within its limits. Even cash bars at weddings are forbidden, he said.

According to Jeff Austin, supervisor at the Maine State Police Liquor Licensing and Compliance Department, after Prohibition ended in 1933, all communities in the state were given the option of how to control liquor sales. More than 40 are still “dry in one way or another,” he said, though not all have regulations as tough as those in Friendship.

“That’s as dry as you can get,” he said.

One reason for Friendship’s dry spell might be the very strong influence of Advent Christian Church and Friendship Methodist, said local historian Lee Jahnke. “That probably keeps it dry today,” she said.

The Colettis say that the store’s future depends on changing the town’s attitude on alcohol.

“The truth of the matter is, if we’re not supported more by the community, we may not be here next year,” said Joan Coletti.

Andrew Anderson, a sternman on a lobster boat, was happy to sign the petition — although he said that he probably wouldn’t vote next week.

“I’d be fine with it,” Anderson said. “It would save a lot of people from going to Waldoboro. I’d buy here if they had it.”

His brother, lobster buyer Jamie Anderson, said that he, too, would like to see the ban overturned.

“It takes money out of these folks’ pockets,” he said. “This store is very important. It’s the only place to go.”

Ernie and Joan Coletti are hoping, hard, that lots of people agree with the Andersons. They said that they came to Maine from Massachusetts because they wanted to raise their family in a smaller, more tightly knit community. They love Friendship, they said, but the bad tourism summer, the lobster price collapse and the recession have left them in a difficult financial spot.

“There was hardly any profit over the winter,” Ernie Coletti said, adding that the store serves as a town center that sells goods by local artists and is the drop-off point for the flu vaccine for nearby island communities.

The Colettis say it’s hard to watch a lot of their potential customers drive miles down the road to Waldoboro and Thomaston to buy beer and wine.

“We really want to stay,” Joan Coletti said, “but we have to be as competitive as the store down the street.”

Marge Flood has lived in Friendship since 1993 and said that while she wouldn’t be surprised if voters allow the sale of alcohol, the Colettis can’t get her vote.

“My mom was a member of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union,” she said with a smile. “I have to vote no. She’d haunt me if I didn’t.”

acurtis@bangordailynews.net

338-3034

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