2009 was the year that Bethel went from “damp” to “wet” in terms of alcohol regulations. The town's first liquor store in more than 40 years opened in 2015. But why were there six years in between, when liquor stores were legal but non-existent?
When the city voted to leave its damp status in 2009, the sale of alcohol in Bethel became legal, restrictions on importation and possession amounts went away, and the punishment for bootlegging and serving alcohol to a minor fell from a felony to a misdemeanor.
In elections the following year, voters made what seemed like a contradiction. They voted to stay wet, but also said that they didn’t want any establishments selling alcohol. People opposed sales at liquor stores, bars, and restaurants in Bethel. When any liquor store applied for a license, the city council protested it based on that 2010 advisory vote; the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control board respected the protests. The result was that for six years, Bethel was essentially damp without the felonies for alcohol-related offenses.
2015 brought a dramatic shift in voters’ support for liquor stores. In that year's election, 57 percent of Bethel voters supported liquor stores. In the 2010 advisory vote there had only been 36 percent support. The liquor stores arrived after that.
Last year, residents in Bethel took another look at reinstating a local option ban on alcohol sales, which voters turned down. In a few weeks, Bethel will revisit the local option issue once again, but with a different proposal. Liquor stores would be eliminated, but this local option would allow restaurants to serve alcohol. Voters could also decide that serving alcohol to minors would be a misdemeanor rather than a felony. However, bootlegging would become a felony again.