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A bill in New York looks to update 'antiquated' alcohol laws

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Prohibition ended about 90 years ago, but in New York State, several communities chose to remain dry. As Ava Pukatch of member station WRVO reports, there's a bill working its way through the state legislature that looks to update what some call antiquated alcohol laws.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRY OIL SIZZLING)

AVA PUKATCH, BYLINE: The fish sandwich at the T&T Village Restaurant in Orwell, N.Y., 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, 45 minutes north of Syracuse, is one of seven dry communities in the state that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages.

TINA THURSTON: It has come up for vote in the past, and it's always been voted down.

PUKATCH: Tina Thurston owns the restaurant with her sister.

THURSTON: So the residents, I don't think, want it any more than anybody else. You know, leave it the way it is.

PUKATCH: State Senator James Skoufis, a Democrat who represents the Hudson Valley, wants to change that.

JAMES SKOUFIS: We look to repeal that provision of this Prohibition-era statute and do away with this ridiculousness once and for all.

PUKATCH: He is sponsoring a bill that would undo New York's law that allows communities to opt out of alcohol sales. He says worries about rolling back the law are overblown because dry communities aren't insulated from the negative effects of alcohol.

SKOUFIS: 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. 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.

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

SKOUFIS: What we have here are extremely outdated laws - an outdated state law and extremely outdated referenda in these local communities.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.

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

RANJIT DIGHE: Something like a family restaurant, you know, can get by or a diner. But when you're serving dinners and, you know, you've got steak and things like that on the menu, generally alcohol is what provides the margin of profit.

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

RICK HALSEY: If the community wanted to allow that, I'm all for it. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF LIQUID POURING)

PUKATCH: As for T&T Village Restaurant's plans, Thurston says she has no intentions on selling alcohol. She'll keep pouring coffee instead of booze, even if the law changes.

THURSTON: We don't want the liability or the drunk people in here causing scenes. We like it the way it is.

PUKATCH: The bill would have to pass both the State Senate and State Assembly. Last call for New York's legislative session is June 6. For NPR News, I'm Ava Pukatch in Orwell, N.Y.

(SOUNDBITE OF MELANIE MARTINEZ SONG, "VOID") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ava Pukatch
[Copyright 2024 WRVO]