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Prohibition-ville: Will New York’s Argyle Repeal Its Dry Town Status?

A grassroots movement is calling for the repeal of an 86-year-old ban on the sale of alcohol in the Washington County town.

A grassroots movement in the New York town of Argyle is calling for the repeal of the 86-year-old ban of the sale of alcohol there.

On any given Saturday night, 24 miles northeast of the flowing bar taps and rising bar tabs of Saratoga Springs’ Caroline Street, one small town might as well be asleep. If you were to venture to Argyle, you’d find no twenty-somethings boisterously making their way to a bar or thumping music emanating from an underground club. No one walks out of the local Stewart’s beer cave with a six-pack in hand, and no teenagers hide in the car while their of-age friends run into the liquor store to hook them up.

That’s because there are no bars, beer caves or liquor stores in Argyle.

Argyle, population 3700, is the largest of the state’s eight dry towns—or places where the sale of alcohol within town/city limits is effectively illegal—and the only one in the eastern half of the state. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Washington County town, along with Caneadea in Allegany County, Clymer in Chautauqua County, Lapeer in Cortland County, Orwell in Oswego County, Berkshire in Tioga County and Fremont and Jasper in Steuben County all voted to stay dry. But it’s only “effectively illegal,” because you’re free to drink alcohol purchased elsewhere in the comfort of your own home. But that means you’ll have to drive elsewhere to secure it, which is a hassle. The town held votes to change the 1933 decision in 1936, 1941, 1947, 1950, 1955, 1968, 1970, 1977, 1989 and 2000, and will try again this year—that is, if a grassroots movement can get enough signatures.

The Repeal Argyle Prohibition Committee must gain 353 signatures by August in order for the petition to repeal the decades-old dry law to even be placed on the next election’s ballot in November. “The town is divided on the issue,” Argyle Supervisor Bob Henke told The Post Star. “I remember a half a dozen times where it lost pretty soundly. But there seems to be a different approach this time.”

So why has the dry law been in effect for 86 years and (possibly) counting? It’s sort of Argyle’s claim to fame. “When you ask an Argyle native some facts about the town, I guarantee they’ll have three answers,” says Alyssa Salerno, who grew up there. “That there are more cows than people, that we have no stop lights and that it’s still a dry town to this day.” (We can’t confirm the cows-to-people ratio, but we’ll take Argyle’s word for it.)

Salerno says she’s torn on the wet/dry topic, because she appreciates the history that comes with the dry reputation, but recognizes that changing could bring a positive economic impact to the town. “The hops/barley and small brewery industry is rapidly growing and our region has had a lot of success in the industry,” she says. She cites the ironically named Argyle Brewing Company—with locations in both nearby Greenwich and Cambridge as one business that could see an immediate uptick in sales—and might even move into town. In addition to the creation of jobs, if the repeal were passed, Argyle would benefit from alcohol tax revenue, which it’s currently not receiving, since revenue only comes as a result of sales. “Whatever the outcome is, I just hope that Argyle will always have the same small-town feel with a close-knit community,” Salerno says. With no stop lights and more cows than people (maybe), it’ll take more than a few bars to erase that small-town spirit.

Hannah Sacks
Hannah Sacks

Hannah Sacks is an editorial assistant at saratoga living.

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