The last dry town in Connecticut is considering whether to give up on Prohibition.
Bridgewater, an affluent bedroom community of 1,700 people tucked into the hills of western Connecticut, might have more at stake in a referendum than bragging rights: The town's average age has risen above 50 and the state is threatening to close the only school.
First Selectman Curtis Read said restaurants that serve alcohol could provide a much-needed boost.
"It would tend to enliven the town," Read said.
Repeal has become the hottest issue in Bridgewater, with dozens attending a November town meeting on the issue. Read said it was clear people were reluctant to "show their cards" and a referendum was chosen in part for privacy, so that voters do not have to reveal opinions to neighbors.
The timing of the vote, originally scheduled for Tuesday, now remains to be determined after it was postponed to make sure it complies with decades-old blue laws.
“Certain requirements of the Connecticut General Statutes relating only to ‘intoxicating liquors’ and specifically how a vote to repeal prohibition must be conducted has been brought to our attention recently. Upon further legal review of the unique and unusual voting process and the advice of the Connecticut Liquor Control Division, (First Selectman) Mr. (Curtis) Read has decided to postpone the scheduled referendum until further notice,” a statement on the town’s Web site says.
Cynthia Bennett, whose grandmother led an effort to keep Bridgewater dry after Prohibition ended in 1933, said she believes many fellow longtime residents will join her in voting against alcohol sales.
"I feel people moved here because Bridgewater is the way it is and I'd like to keep it that way," said Bennett, 55. "I'm not saying you don't, say, have a game of horseshoes and have a beer. There's plenty of it in Bridgewater."
Bridgewater has taken up the issue for the first time since 1930s because two developers proposed opening restaurants, as long as they could serve alcohol. Some residents have bars in their garages but the town, which is home to actress Mia Farrow and a large weekend population of people from New York City, currently does not have a restaurant aside from a village store with a delicatessen.
Read won the top job in November after his predecessor, William Stuart, declined to run for re-election to a position he held for 30 years. A leader of a local fox-hunting club, Stuart championed land preservation and kept development at bay. The FBI raided the town hall in 2012 and Stuart’s state and federal tax returns were among the documents listed in a search warrant issued by a federal judge.
The FBI has since declined to comment on the status of any investigation.
Today, the town 60 miles north of New York has a median household income of about $100,000, but it has a glut of homes on the market and the last census showed the median age is 51. Farms dot the town that is full of picturesque, winding rural roads but has little downtown beyond the town hall and a post office.
A plan for a consolidated regional elementary school, subject to a vote in April, could lead to the closing of the town's only grade school.
"The town definitely needs a boost," said Read, who said the restaurants could provide a bit of local employment and a place to socialize.
One of the restaurant proposals came from Peter and Leni May, part-time residents from New York City who own the century-old building in downtown Bridgewater that hosts the village store. They suggested opening a pub-style restaurant in an adjacent space left vacant by the closing of a bank last June. Their local agent, Greg Bollard, said he was disappointed by the referendum's postponement, and it could even take the restaurant proposal off the table, but the family is committed to finding a business that will benefit the town center.
"We all want see to some positive growth for the town," Bollard said.
““I realize that this will be an inconvenience for many residents and for those proposing restaurants that can serve alcohol, but it is better to make sure the state statutes are followed when we do have the Wet/Dry vote. We should not risk any legal challenges to a vote on this issue in the future,” Read said in a statement about postponing the vote.