Hartville voters agreed to allow two local restaurants to sell alcohol in what has been a “dry” area for more than half a century.
It'll be at least a month before diners at two village restaurants can order a glass of wine with dinner in an area that has been dry for more than half a century.
But voters' Election Day approval of a liquor option for those businesses not only means a change in the menu, it signals a change in the consumer landscape.
Until now, the Giant Eagle supermarket at 907 W. Maple St. was the only business permitted to sell alcohol, getting approval from voters earlier this year.
"When Giant Eagle passed in May, the floodgates kind of opened," said Travis Secrest, administrative assistant at the Stark County Board of Elections. "We had a number of businesses (ask for alcohol sales permits in Lake Township), more than any other precinct in the county."
And the village is growing.
Hartville recently annexed Lake High School with the Lake YMCA and Mercy Medical Center branch office. Within the past year, the new Grinders Above & Beyond restaurant and Top It Off frozen yogurt have opened. The newly built Sheetz gas station/convenience store and Aldi's supermarket will soon be joined by a 81-bed Comfort Inn & Suites hotel, under construction just east of the Hartville Kitchen and the flea market.
Mayor Richard Currie said that while the restaurants granted the right to sell liquor on weekdays will likely benefit, "I don't think it'll be a problem for the village ... I guess time will tell."
Police Chief Lawrence Dordea agrees.
"It's really different for a community in Stark County to be alcohol-free," Dordea said. "But Hartville is on the move. It's part of the normal evolution that's going on up here."
WHO CAN SELL
Voters last week agreed to allow Carlo's Trattoria at 733 W. Maple St., and Grinders restaurant at 1212 W. Maple St. to sell alcohol.
Carlo's can sell beer and wine in the restaurant and by carryout "in their original sealed containers," said Matt Mullins, spokesman for the state Division of Liquor Control. Grinders can not only sell beer and wine, it can also sell "low-proof, mixed beverages and spirituous liquor," which is high-proof alcohol, Mullins said.
The Bell convenience store asked voters for a liquor option but it failed.
The sale of alcohol at a store is different than at a restaurant, the police chief said.
"Yes, there'll be some opinions, but realistically, I don't think there'll be any drain on resources here," he said. His office plans to help with training and other issues that help businesses continue to comply with the law, issues such as only allowing employees age 21 and over handle or sell alcohol.
No business in Hartville is allowed to sell alcohol on Sunday. That's one issue voters have denied.
Dordea said he wasn't surprised.
"This is Stark County's Bible belt up here," he said. "It's a very religious area. A lot of the clergy were saying, 'Vote no.' "
Local churches opposed the recent issues on the ballot. Village officials said the churches erected signs — some of which apparently did not comply with election law.
"When you're putting up signs and spending money to effect the outcome of an election, then that type of activity should be reported," said Secrest, who oversees signage at the elections board. "If there are no markings on them saying who put them out, that might be a problem."
Whoever erects the signs must file paperwork for campaign finance purposes and establish a committee openly declaring their contact information and their treasurer. Failure to do so may be addressed by the Ohio Ethics Commission if anyone complains, Secrest said.
Hartville Church of Christ Minister Dean Miller, who village officials said has been the most outspoken on the issue, said the signs were a joint effort between "individual members of the community" and not the church's congregation, although church members participated.
"When the Giant Eagle permit was put on the ballot, there was very little public knowledge about it. ... With six permits on the same ballot, we were just committed to making people aware that these issues were on the ballot," he said.
He acknowledged that no formal committee was established, but he said that he consulted with a lawyer before putting up the signs. He said he didn't believe any laws were violated, contending the paperwork can be filed post-election.
Miller questioned the fairness of how alcohol permits are voted on in the area given that permits affect the entire village yet not everyone is allowed a vote on the issue.
"This vote was not about prohibition," he said. "The vote was about 'Do we want limited access to alcohol or a greater access to alcohol in our area?' "
"When you make alcohol more readily available, isn't it more likely to be consumed? And when you make alcohol more available, it's more likely that more youths are going to participate in consumption because we're making it more readily available."
He said he's personally disappointed that two permits passed, adding that the remaining four were defeated.
"I think that obviously indicates there's some interest in the community in limitation," he said.
Restaurants knew the history of the village before they located there, he said.
If the issue arises again, Miller said, he plans to erect more signs to make people aware.
Hartville wasn't always dry.
Prohibition began in Ohio six months before it became national law in 1919, according to the Ohio Historical Society website at ohiohistory.org. That section of the Ohio Constitution was repealed in November 1933, making alcohol sales legal again.
Travis Secrest, administrative assistant at the Stark County Board of Elections, said Hartville stayed alcohol-free — formally, at least — until 1938.
On Election Day — Nov. 8, 1938 — voters faced six alcohol-related issues on the ballot in the two "precincts" known only as Hartville North and Hartville South, he said, adding that Hartville North was comprised of every village address north of state Route 619 (Maple Street) on the map, which had been drawn in 1929.
In that election, the sale of beer passed in Hartville North but failed in the southern section.
But the flow of alcohol in the village changed again in 1960 when, on Nov. 8, 1960, voters addressed five alcohol-related issues on the ballot.
All of them failed. Alcohol was deemed illegal again, "which essentially dried the precinct," Secrest said.
The village remained dry again from 1960 until six months ago.