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A NY state bill could end the option for a town to remain dry

Tammy Henry, Tina Thurston and Cindy Henry work at the T & T Village Restaurant in Orwell, NY. The restaurant is named for sisters Tammy Henry and Tina Thurston who own the restaurant.
Ava Pukatch
/
WRVO
Tammy Henry, Tina Thurston and Cindy Henry work at the T & T Village Restaurant in Orwell, NY. The restaurant is named for sisters Tammy Henry and Tina Thurston who own the building.

Prohibition ended about 90 years ago. But in New York state, several communities chose to remain dry. A bill working its way through the state legislature looks to update what some call "antiquated" alcohol laws.

The fish sandwich at the T & T Village Restaurant in Orwell, New York comes with a choice of sides like french fries, mac and cheese and coleslaw.

But you won’t see beer or wine on the menu.

The town about 45 minutes north of Syracuse is one of seven dry communities in the state that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages.

"It has come up for vote in the past and it's always been voted down," Tina Thurston, who owns the restaurant with her sister, said. "So the residents, I don't think want it any more than anybody else, you know, leave it the way it is."

Friday's special is a fried haddock sandwich. Side options include mac and cheese, french fries and coleslaw. The restaurant does not serve any alcohol.
Ava Pukatch
/
WRVO
Friday's special is a fried haddock sandwich. Side options include mac and cheese, french fries and coleslaw. The restaurant does not serve any alcohol.

State Sen. James Skoufis (D-Cornwall) wants to change that.

"We look to repeal that provision of this prohibition-era, statute and do away with this ridiculousness once and for all," Skoufis said.

He is sponsoring a bill that would undo New York's law that allows communities to opt out of alcohol sales. In addition to Orwell, other affected dry communities in the state include Lapeer, Berkshire, Jasper, Fremont, Caneadea and Clymer.

Skoufis said worries about rolling back the law are overblown because dry communities aren’t insulated from the negative effects of alcohol.

"What is happening instead is that the people in that community who want to drink all they're doing is getting behind a wheel and driving further away," Skoufis said. "Some of them are having too much to drink and then driving drunk a further distance back home, because they cannot get served alcohol in the very place they live."

But Skoufis said even if the bill is signed into law, nothing has to change because restaurant owners can still choose whether they want to serve alcohol.

"What we have here are extremely outdated laws," Skoufis said. "An outdated state law and extremely outdated referenda in these local communities and I do believe it's the State's responsibility to step in and put an end to silliness and that's what this is."

Ranjit Dighe, an economics professor at SUNY Oswego who studies alcohol prohibition and production, said a driving force for a town changing from dry to wet is to revitalize downtowns. Upscale restaurants rely on alcohol sales.

"A family restaurant can get by or a diner," Dighe said. "But when you're serving dinners and you've got steak and things like that on the menu, generally alcohol is what provides the margin of profit."

Lifelong Orwell resident Rick Halsey said he doesn't really care whether the town is dry or wet, but he feels like Albany lawmakers are overstepping.

"If the community wanted to allow that I'm all for it," Halsey said. "I have no — one way or another it wouldn't bother me any. But I don't want somebody out of town making our decisions. And that's what we're up against right now."

The T & T Village Restaurant is the only restaurant in Orwell. Its located next to the town's post office.
Ava Pukatch
/
WRVO
The T & T Village Restaurant is the only restaurant in Orwell. Its located next to the town's post office.

As for T & T Village Restaurant’s plans? Thurston said she has no intention of selling alcohol. She’ll keep pouring coffee instead of booze, even if the law changes.

"We don't want the liability or the drunk people in here causing scenes," Thurston said. "We like it the way it is."

The bill would have to pass both the state senate and state assembly. Last call for New York’s legislative session is June 6.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.