Brewery owner in once-dry town hopes to be ‘good neighbor’
ROARING SPRING, Pa. (AP) — Last year’s election saw Roaring Spring voters turn back a nearly 100-year old ordinance banning the sale of alcohol within the borough limits, paving the way for alcohol-related businesses to tap into a new market.
Of the more than 400 votes cast, 65 percent voted in favor of alcohol sales, leaving the minority to worry about the changes it will bring to the borough.
The first to take advantage of Roaring Spring’s new “wet” status is Spring Dam Brewery Inc., a locally owned microbrewery that plans to open a brewpub at 269 Main St.
Spring Dam will make and sell its own craft beers, soda, coffee and have a limited food menu. Spring Dam will operate under a “brewpub” license, which is markedly different than a liquor license that traditional bars and restaurants have.
The brewery license allows for the manufacturing and distribution of malt beverages on the premises, as well as the sale of beer made in Pennsylvania. Beer or spirits made outside of Pennsylvania cannot be sold.
Last week, an important hurdle to bringing in the borough’s first alcohol-related business was cleared when council tentatively approved a conditional use permit for the pub to operate at its proposed location.
Council is expected to formally approve the permit at next month’s regular meeting provided certain conditions are met, including providing adequate parking.
Spring Dam has already addressed the parking issue by purchasing the building beside the site of the proposed pub and plans to raze it for a parking lot.
Spring Dam partner Dane M. Noel said the brewpub is not going to be a bar in the traditional sense and that the people who are opposed to it are not viewing it in the correct way.
“We want to make the pub a family destination,” Noel said. “We are building a social club where you can come and enjoy a nice time with the family.”
Noel said unlike a bar, Spring Dam will close at 10. p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.
“This is not going to be a bar,” Noel said. “Some people see that alcohol is being sold and automatically associate it with a bar and the problems that can bring, but that is not what we are.”
Pastor Charles Brubaker, of Holy Fire Chapel in Roaring Spring, was against the referendum to change the borough’s century-old ban on alcohol sales.
Brubaker said even though the proposed pub will have limited hours and not sell hard liquor, he sees it as no different than any other bar.
“Alcohol affects families,” Brubaker said. “Our town doesn’t need it.”
Brubaker said he believes a business selling alcohol will bring new problems into the borough.
“The town has been dry for years, so why open it up for other problems that may arise?” he asked. “Sometimes it brings in problems that we don’t foresee.”
Brubaker is not saying the proposed pub will bring in more crime, but he said the sale of alcohol in general could.
“This opens the door for more alcohol-related establishments to come in,” he said. “I just don’t want to see that. I just don’t like the thought of alcohol coming in.”
Sharon Ray said the change in the borough’s dry status is an affront to the town’s history.
“I was so proud to say I lived in a town that did not serve anything that was going to hurt children and families,” she said. “The founding fathers of this town realized the evils of alcohol. They are tearing down everything our founding fathers stood for.”
Ray said she doesn’t think the pub itself will mean “drunks” walking the streets, but is afraid that with its opening, more traditional bars won’t be far behind.
“I doubt they are going to let them do things like that in the pub,” she said. “But how long until we do have a bar on the corner and people walking around drunk?”
Like Brubaker, Ray said that allowing alcohol sales will increase crime in the borough.
“This has been the safest town,” she said. “I was born here, and it has been such a safe place. Why do we want to open any floodgates for crime?”
What the police think
Roaring Spring Police Chief Greg Wyandt said he does not foresee any issues with the pub opening in town, and the sale of alcohol in the borough is not causing him to consider adding officers.
“We are not anticipating any staff changes or additions attributed to that,” Wyandt said. “If we add staff, it’s going to be because we need staff in general.”
Wyandt said people tend to think because Roaring Spring was a “dry” town, it shielded them from alcohol-issues because it couldn’t be purchased in town.
“There are plenty of people in town who have picnics in the summer with alcohol. The only difference is now they will be able to buy it here,” he said. “Do I anticipate problems? I don’t think any more problems than we have now.”
Wyandt said he understands why some people are concerned, given the town’s history of not allowing alcohol sales, but he hopes they keep an open mind.
“It’s going to be different for some people to take at first,” he said. “But give it a chance. People are judging it before it gets off the ground. Some people just don’t like change.”
Wyandt said the term “dry town” is misleading, and some people think that means Roaring Spring has never had alcohol in its limits.
“Dry town just meant that alcohol wasn’t sold here,” he said. “It’s not like people aren’t drinking it here. They go to distributors and six-pack shops and bring it home. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing.”
Council President Rodney Green spearheaded the effort to get the alcohol referendum on last year’s ballot, saying allowing alcohol sales will boost growth in the borough.
Green said the brewpub will not only add to what he hopes is growing business development, it is also improving blight.
“This is an improvement in blight in the borough,” Green said.” The people who are starting this brewpub have purchased two properties, one that was on our list for demolition, and now they are going to get a nice facelift.”
Green said he understands the feelings of those who are opposed to alcohol sales in the borough, but the time to speak up was at the ballot box.
“People have strongly-held beliefs, and we understand that,” Green said. “The whole purpose of the referendum was to give the community as a whole, not just a small group, an opportunity to weigh in.”
Green said the fears the brewpub will open the floodgates for more traditional bars to invade the town are unfounded, and that measures were put into place to regulate it.
“As a Borough Council, we proactively put together an ordinance to control the conditions where these types of establishments can be located,” he said. “People are going to have to be assured that there is going to be a responsible approach taken on a case-by-case basis.”
In response to Ray’s concern that changing the town’s dry status is going against history, Green said the borough can move forward while still respecting the past.
“I’m very aware of the history of the town. I was born here, and I grew up here,” Green said. “This town also has a history of being very progressive and of being open to business development. To me, this is a small shift to being modern, but it’s not in opposition to our other traditions.”
Ray said she was leery about the brewpub getting approval to open at its proposed location because of a perceived conflict of interest between one of its owners and two members of council.
Dane M. Noel, one of the pub’s owners, is the son of council member Dane Noel and the brother of council member Kayla Noel.
Borough Solicitor Larry Lashinsky said Dane and Kayla did not participate in the vote on the conditional use permit and will abstain from any future votes pertaining to it.
Lashinsky said that each member of council was given the opportunity at the end of the public hearing to give their observations as a private citizen, but both Noels declined,
“They were not engaged in the initial deliberations of council nor will they participate in the upcoming vote,” he said.
Wants to be good neighbor
The younger Noel said he want those who oppose his business to give him a chance to show them that he is committed to running a family-friendly establishment that will be a credit to the borough.
Noel said the brewpub will not be the destination for those who want to get inebriated, and it is important that people understand that.
“No, this is not going to be a place where people are hanging out drinking excessively,” he said. “This is not going to be a bar atmosphere.”
Noel said he will have theme nights where he donates a portion of the proceeds back to the community.
“At least once a month we will have a theme night, and we want to donate half the money from those events to local charities and the fire company,” he said. “We want to be the asset in this community.”
Noel said he is determined to show that alcohol sales doesn’t automatically lead to trouble and hopes once the business is up and running people will have a better understanding.
“Some people are always going to associate anything with alcohol with ‘staggering on the sidewalk,’” Noel said. “I want them to come down and see that is not true.”
Information from: Altoona Mirror, http://www.altoonamirror.com