Portage County has alcohol-free communities
The village of Ephraim in Door County will hold a referendum in April to allow alcohol sales inside its corporate limits, something that has been prohibited since its founding in 1853.
Ephraim, with a population of 288 in 2010, also claims to be the only alcohol-free municipality in Wisconsin, but that is false.
Portage County has one town and one village with laws prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages and another village that is alcohol-free because there are no licensed premises to sell alcoholic beverages located there.
The town of New Hope, between Amherst and Rosholt, has been alcohol-free since its founding in 1856, probably owing its non-alcoholic policies to the number of Norwegian Lutherans who initially settled in the area. It is apparently the only town in Wisconsin that prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages.
New Hope voters approved a referendum April 2, 1974, to make the town a little wet, authorizing a license to be issued to Felix Garski Jr., operator of the former Garfield Store on County Trunk A, to allow the sale of beer for consumption off-premises. The vote was 78-35 in favor of issuing the license, but the sale of hard liquor was still prohibited.
Garski had made the request in hopes of selling beer to people on their way to Sunset Lake. However, the Garfield Store went out of business within a few years, and the license went with it.
Dan Zaborowski, the New Hope chairman, said the town hasn’t had any requests for a license in recent decades, and the town doesn’t really have any facilities that accommodate a business that might want to sell liquor.
The village of Nelsonville, with a population of 188 in 2010, was carved out of a section in the southwest corner of the town of New Hope and incorporated in 1913. Village officials subsequently retained an ordinance prohibiting alcohol sales within its boundaries.
Both New Hope’s and Nelsonville’s laws prohibiting alcohol sales led to the construction of the buildings now housing Bootlegger’s tavern and White Tail Lanes bowling alley just south of the village and town lines on County Trunk Q in the town of Amherst so alcohol sales could be permitted.
Gale Gordon, longtime president of Nelsonville, confirmed the village has prohibited alcohol sales since it was founded and said the village was never asked to amend its laws to permit alcohol sales for the businesses south of Nelsonville.
He said he and his wife chuckled when they saw the Ephraim story on television, mentioning that story neglected to identify Nelsonville as another village in Wisconsin that prohibits alcohol sales.
He said long ago the Nelsonville corporate limits were different and right at the village limits was a tavern named Duck Inn and right across the road from that was another one named Duck Out. After those taverns went out of business, the village annexed the land where they stood, he said, but there are no foundations of the buildings there anymore.
The other village that is without alcohol sales is the village of Whiting, a situation that has existed since the 1990s, when the former Bottle Stop, a liquor store on Post Road, ceased operations.
Prior to that, Whiting had a number of taverns, including Wanta’s Whiting Bar and Cooper’s Corners.
Debra Lutz, village clerk, said the village does have liquor licenses available, but hasn’t issued one since the Bottle Stop closed.
Those seeking refreshments in Whiting don’t have to travel far to buy beer, wine or liquor, as there are several locations within a block of the three main entrances to the village.
At the north entrance on Church Street, there’s a tavern and a convenience store in Stevens Point; at the south entrance, there’s a tavern and a convenience store in Plover; and at the east entrance, there’s a tavern in Plover. Whiting is bordered on the west by the Wisconsin River.
Ephraim residents are seeking the sale of alcoholic beverages because business owners of motels and restaurants say the existing law is sending tourists and others outside the village if they want to have a beer or wine with their meal.
Ephraim voters have tried to change the ban twice through referendums, voting 78-54 against it in 1932 and 141-50 in 1992.