Wisconsin tourist town to vote on whether to stay dry

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Posted: Mar 22, 2016 2:08 AM
Wisconsin tourist town to vote on whether to stay dry

EPHRAIM, Wis. (AP) — In Wisconsin, a state known for beer brewing and binge drinking, there's a small picturesque tourist village northeast of Green Bay where you can't buy a drop of alcohol.

Ephraim, along the water in peninsular Door County — a popular destination dotted with small towns, resorts and wineries — is dry, but it might not be for much longer. Some locals have gathered enough signatures from among the 300 or so residents to spark a referendum on the issue April 5, the same day as the state's presidential primary.

"When people do come in, they sit down and look at the view and they're like, 'Oh, great. Can we see a wine list?'" said Todd Bennet, who owns Chef's Hat restaurant in Ephraim.

When he tells them it's against the village ordinance, "Some people just kind of look at us and say, 'We're in Wisconsin, right?'"

There are two questions on the referendum. One asks whether the village should issue licenses that would allow beer to be sold for consumption on or off premise at a restaurant, hotel or tavern. The other asks whether the village should issue licenses that would allow wine to be sold for consumption in restaurants. (There are currently no taverns in Ephraim.)

The petition was started by Fred Bridenhagen, 57, who grew up in Ephraim and now owns four retail businesses there. He and others obtained 100 signatures, three times what was needed to get the questions on the ballot.

The village has been dry since Norwegian Moravians founded it in 1853. Residents have unsuccessfully tried twice to change the ban in 1934 and 1992. According to the village website, 59 percent voted no in 1934 and 74 percent voted no in 1992.

Bridenhagen argues restaurants and other businesses have been dealing with rising food costs and shouldn't have to turn money and people away to nearby towns.

"The last I checked the only industry we have in Ephraim is tourism," he said. "Why would we not want to give the business owner the opportunity to provide the service a customer in today's market would expect?"

But Anthony Beadell, 71, has written editorials to local newspapers in an effort to keep the tradition the Moravians started 163 years ago intact.

"We are one of the most pampered generations in the history of mankind," he said, referring to baby boomers.

Beadell said he drinks but doesn't think the village needs it to survive.

"Once you open the door to alcohol, there's no stopping it. You can't reverse it."

Retired fire chief Niles Weborg, 77, plans to vote against it as well. He said businesses knew the rules when they moved in.

"Ephraim is the pearl of the peninsula, and now we are trying to tarnish that pearl by bringing in alcohol," he said.

Ephraim is joined in Wisconsin by a village and town in Portage County that also prohibit alcohol sales by ordinance, according to Julia Sherman, coordinator at the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School.