FRIENDSHIP, Maine — Owners and staff at the Archie Wallace Market on Wednesday afternoon were planning a special celebration for that night — they would pop open two bottles of champagne and toast the end of the town’s long dry spell.
Residents decided by just 55 votes in Tuesday’s election to authorize the sale of beer and wine in the small fishing community, and Wallace Market co-owner Joan Coletti said she and her husband are very excited about the outcome.
“It’s a weight off our shoulders,” Coletti said Wednesday morning. “I think it’s kind of brought the community together. I think people didn’t realize that small businesses like ours are in trouble.”
Joan and Ernie Coletti own the only store in town, and led a petition drive earlier this fall to get the alcohol question on this year’s ballot. Business this year has been bad due to the poor summer tourism season and the crash in lobster prices, Ernie Coletti explained last week. They had hoped that additional income from alcohol sales would allow them to keep running the store.
The ballot held four alcohol-related questions for residents, asking whether to allow state liquor stores and agency liquor stores, whether to allow the sale of malt liquor and wine in “licensed establishments,” and when to allow these activities.
Only the question on the sale of beer and wine passed — by 388 to 333 — but that was enough, Joan Coletti said.
“We’ve been having a lot of well-wishers,” she said. “People are coming in and half-seriously looking for beer and wine already.”
The store should begin selling beer and wine behind the counter by Christmas, said Joan Coletti, who added that the store’s phone had been ringing “off the hook” Wednesday morning with phone calls from residents, the media — and alcohol distributors.
“It’s made us feel really welcome, and happy that we’re here,” she said.
That wasn’t necessarily the case Tuesday night, when they went to bed believing that voters had turned down all of the alcohol-related referendum questions, she said.
The small fishing community has been “dry” at least since Prohibition, and three recent efforts to overturn the ban on alcohol sales failed in 1987, 1992 and 2000, when residents voted against a reversal 533-202.
Residents still felt strongly about Sunday alcohol sales, voting 406 to 315 against it. More than 76 percent of the town’s 950 registered voters turned in ballots, although Town Clerk Joel Fearn said he registered around 40 additional voters Tuesday.
Many communities in Maine —more than 40 — have some type of restriction on alcohol sales, said Jeff Austin, supervisor at the Maine State Police Liquor Licensing and Compliance Department.
But Friendship, which until Tuesday had not allowed sales of wine, beer or hard liquor in stores or in eateries, is “as dry as you can get,” Austin said last week.
In the Waldo County town of Morrill, meanwhile, residents also voted in support of a two-question ballot allowing the sale of liquor in town throughout the week.
Residents at Tuesday’s municipal election voted 292 to 120 to allow the sale of liquor for consumption off premises on days other than Sunday and 247 to 168 to allow the sale of liquor for consumption off the premises on Sunday. The result means that liquor can be sold in local stores.
The town of Morrill had banned the sale of alcoholic beverages since Prohibition until the 1990s, when voters approved the sale of beer and wine at the general store in Morrill village.
BDN writer Walter Griffin in Belfast contributed to this report.