SEDGWICK, Maine — “Damp” or “wet”?
That’s the question residents here will answer on March 1, when they decide at the ballot box whether to allow the sale of alcohol for on-premises consumption at Sedgwick restaurants.
The state categorizes towns as “wet” if they allow both on- and off-premises liquor licenses, “dry” if they allow neither, and “damp” if they allow one without the other.
Sedgwick does allow businesses to sell alcohol for customers to take home, and two local stores do that — Eggemoggin Country Store and C & G Grocery, said Selectman Victor Smith.
Smith said Sedgwick is the last town in the area not to allow restaurants and other businesses to sell boozy drinks for customers to enjoy on site and that it’s time for Sedgwick to modernize its stance on alcohol.
“Why not go along with the rest of the world, you know?” he said Wednesday. “Why be stuck in the 18th century?”
The referendum was supported by Sedgwick’s restaurant community. A petition was circulated by El El Frijoles’ owners Michael Rossney and Michele Levesque, as well as Jill Smith, Victor Smith’s daughter and proprietor of The Millbrook Co.
Rossney has no intention to sell alcohol at his Mexican restaurant, he said, but supports changing the law as an effort to make Sedgwick more attractive to potential restaurateurs.
“As long as that ordinance is in effect, it’s less likely we’ll have anyone open a restaurant or a bed and breakfast in town,” Rossney said. “They’re more likely to go to Blue Hill, or Brooksville or Deer Isle.”
Jill Smith echoed Rossney’s comments. She said she’s undecided on whether to offer alcohol at The Millbrook Co. when it opens its new location at the former Country View Drive-In on Route 15.
“It’s all about economic growth for the town of Sedgwick,” she said. “I want the town to have options. … I think it’s outdated that we can buy alcohol but we can’t sell beer or wine in an establishment.”
The town has asked voters whether to repeal the damp ordinance before, Victor Smith said. He said the effort has failed in the past because the issue has been taken up during town meeting, a daylong event with a lower turnout than municipal elections.
Smith said turnout at the annual town meeting is dominated by voters resistant to looser booze rules: “There’s enough churchgoers in town that go to town meeting, and they would vote it down,” he said.
Steve McFarland, pastor of the fundamentalist Eggemoggin Baptist Church, said it’s probably true that people’s religious convictions informed their votes, even if there was no organized effort to rally the town’s religious population.
He said it is the position of his church that “intoxicating beverages and alcohol have a damaging effect on society. The Bible speaks to that, and our experience speaks to it as well.”
McFarland pointed to instances of domestic violence, assault and even murder that he said wouldn’t have happened had alcohol not been in the picture.
“Our position is that there’s plenty flowing now. You don’t need to increase the flow from the taps anymore,” he said.
After Prohibition ended in 1933, Maine towns were given the option of allowing liquor licenses or not. Over the years, some dry towns have changed their tunes; Last year, Cushing reversed course and allowed the sale of alcohol within its borders; in 2009, Friendship and Morrill did the same.
There are still about 56 completely dry communities in the state, according to Lt. Scott Ireland of the Maine State Police Office of Liquor Licensing and Compliance.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.