Upcoming vote on Seneca semi-dry alcohol law

One hundred and fifteen years. That’s how long it’s been since the town of Seneca in Ontario County, New York, has been trying to change the local alcohol law. How ironic that a town that sits just a few miles from Seneca Lake’s wine country isn’t able to serve wine – or any other type of alcohol – in its restaurants and other establishments.

The town was originally considered “dry,” as in the sale of alcohol within the town limits was strictly prohibited. In 1972, voters were able to revise the law to allow retail sale of alcohol for off-premises consumption, such as in grocery stores. In 2006, voters were unable to collect enough signatures to legalize the sale and consumption on-premises in bars and restaurants. This year, however, residents beat the 220-signature requirement with a total of 349 signatures, which means that in November, the issue will be on the ballot.

Those who oppose the change adhere to the stereotype that a “wet” alcohol law would have a negative impact on the peace and tranquility of the town, wary of associated stereotypes.

I argue that a change in the law would be a good thing for the town. Seneca’s fiscal success relies almost entirely on a county-owned landfill. In fact, the landfill generates so much revenue for the town that residents do not pay property tax and only pay reduced county property tax. Unfortunately, the contract with the landfill expires in 2028, so the town would do well to find new revenue streams and build them up well before this time.

The fact of the matter is business networking, like family gatherings, revolve around the table. Potential clients or partners schmooze, deals are made, and relationships are forged during a good meal and a glass or two of their alcoholic beverage of choice. It’s hard to attract businesses to Seneca when the town doesn’t have much to offer by way of these opportunities. And the town isn’t going to get new taverns, bars, restaurants or hotels when these establishments would be restricted from selling their biggest revenue-earner.

There are also private reasons for wanting to revise the laws. Going out for a nice meal and having a glass of wine with your friends or spouse requires driving to the next town instead of a few blocks up the road. When the local fire department gets together for an annual banquet, they can’t even have that in their own newly-remodeled hall. Residents can’t have a wedding reception because catered events with cash bars aren’t allowed.

In today’s culture, both businesses and individuals enjoy the time off from work and everyday stresses and look forward to celebrating special events with an option for enjoying an alcoholic beverage or two. A change in the law does not mean the town will fall to pieces in drunken debauchery, but it could mean more business opportunities and local socializing with residents. It could mean building the financial infrastructure needed to replace the revenue generated by the landfill. These are important considerations to take into account when the Seneca residents take up their ballot on November 6th.