Voters have lifted a longstanding ban on alcohol sales in a small northeastern Wisconsin village that was the state’s last dry municipality. On Tuesday, voters in the Door County village of Ephraim approved two referendums allowing the sale of beer at businesses and the sale of wine at restaurants.
The village of about 300 people has been dry since Norwegian Moravians founded it in 1853. Residents unsuccessfully tried to change the ban in 1934 and 1992.
Under the village’s zoning code ordinance, the sale, manufacturing or distribution of alcohol or fermented malt beverages is prohibited within Ephraim. People within the village also are prohibited from drinking a “fermented malt beverages or intoxicating liquor” in public.
A group of business owners in January submitted two petitions asking to place the referendum questions dealing with the sale of alcohol on the ballot.
In recent weeks, the referendum almost hit a snag when an Assembly bill, which would’ve turned referendum from binding to advisory, was set to be signed by Gov. Scott Walker. The bill’s authors agreed to hold the bill until after the election at the request of Republican state Rep. Joel Kitchens of Sturgeon Bay.
Supporters of the change said allowing alcohol sales would improve tourist trade at the village along the water in peninsular Door County, about 70 miles northeast of Green Bay. Opponents said introducing alcohol sales would tarnish the quaint feel of the area and spurn village history.
Two local business owners who brought the petitions forward, Hugh Mulliken and Fred Bridenhagen, said they’re happy with the passage of both referendum questions.
Mulliken believes the only thing that the vote will change in Ephraim is people’s ability to have a drink with dinner.
“The feeling of Ephraim will remain exactly the same,” he said.
The Ephraim Village Board plans to move forward with the process of issuing alcohol licenses. It also wants to invite the Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s Alcohol and Tobacco division to Ephraim for a village-wide seminar about what the statute changes mean for everyone.
“It is an end of an era,” Ephraim Village President Michael McCutcheon said. “I will say the margins of the victory for both of the referendums, I think, were quite large.”