Cities and towns that ban alcohol could soon be a thing of the past in New York State if state lawmakers repeal a controversial, post-Prohibition law.

While the sale of booze is largely unrestricted across the Empire State, there are seven strongholds that have either a partial or full ban on the sale of alcohol.

One of these municipalities is the Town of Orwell, which is located in Oswego County. The tiny, 41.3 square-mile community fully bans the sale of beer, wine, and liquor and has reportedly been doing it since before the Civil War.

But those days may be numbered, with Democratic State Senator James Skoufis introducing legislation to end the "silly" rule.

No More Dry Towns in New York?

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The Associated Press says lawmakers are looking to overturn a 1934 law that allowed New York cities and towns to ban on alcohol if they wished. The rule was passed right after Prohibition ended in 1933.

According to Skoufis, he says that law has long overstayed its welcome. "This ain’t the Prohibition era any longer. We live in New York in 2024, and this thing is kind of silly," he told the AP. His bill cleared from a committee vote and is now set to be voted upon by the NY Senate.

In 2024, only 7 cities or towns in the Empire State continue to ban or restrict the sale of alcohol. These areas are Orwell, Lapeer, Berkshire, Jasper, Clymer, Caneadea, and Fremont.

How New Yorkers Feel about the Proposed Legislation


The largest municipality that still has a booze ban on the books is Caneadea, which boasts roughly 2,000 residents. It seems that law is still popular among some of its residents. One supporter is the deputy town supervisor, Philip G. Stockin, who said what lawmakers are considering now is nothing but state overreach.

"It gets frustrating when the state hands down mandates, it takes more and more control away from the locals," he said.

It seems the law is favored to pass, with lawmakers and supporters of the legislation saying it would help bring in more business and help restaurants function more fully. One supporter is Brittany Gerould, a general manager at the Dutch Village Restaurant in Clymer.

Gerould says the restaurant remains closed on a Saturday because they can't sell alcohol and that they are losing business to restaurants in neighboring cities and towns that aren't restricted.

That appears to be the sticking point for many. The laws aren't stopping residents from consuming alcohol, it only makes them go a little out of their way to purchase it elsewhere.

This was evidenced in 2019 when the Town of Argyle voted to repeal its dry status because residents kept going out of the area to patronize restaurants and other businesses.

Argyle’s deputy town clerk, Renee Montero-Kober, said residents got tired of leaving town to shop for alcohol or drink it at a restaurant - and that meant losing businesses to neighboring communities.

Why Did New York Ban Alcohol to Begin With?

iStock via Getty Images
iStock via Getty Images

The U.S. Government had previously banned the sale, transportation, importation, and manufacturing of alcohol via the 18th Amendment that passed in 1918. The thought was alcohol was the root cause of a loose society and banning it would heal the ills of the American people.

But, as Americans do, they found a way to bypass laws and covertly consume alcohol with the help of bootleggers, speakeasies, and organized crime rings that smuggled booze across the country.

Even after Prohibition ended, the thought of banning the sale and consumption of booze was a sign of a more evolved society, so cities and towns gained the power to restrict or outright ban alcohol - much like New York's law of 1934.

The resolution is currently in the hands of the State Senate. This story will be updated when lawmakers bring it to a vote.

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