When the new kegerator was delivered to the Amity Coffee shop in Duluth recently, some of the customers fawned over it.
“We had two of them walk over to the box saying, ‘Sleep well. We’ll be back for you soon,’ ” recalled Patti Swank, who owns Amity with her husband.
That kegerator — a refrigerator designed to hold a keg of beer — served as a harbinger to the end of a Prohibition-like law in Duluth’s Lakeside-Lester Park neighborhoods, one of the last “dry” sales enclaves in the state.
Last fall, in a nonbinding referendum, Duluthians voted 67 percent in favor of repealing the law that banned the sale of alcohol in the neighborhoods on the city’s eastern side. After several other government actions, including the city granting a beer and wine license to Amity Coffee, the first glass is slated be sold there soon.
“We’re super excited,” Swank said. “Customers are really looking forward to this. It’s going to expand our hours and allow us to bring music back to our stage.”
The change was a long time coming.
The alcohol sales ban has been in place there since the 1890s, as a provision of the neighborhoods being annexed into the city. The ban was later added to state law.
Repealing it took several tries since at least the 1970s. On the ballot in Duluth in 2008, it lost by one vote.
But after the citywide vote of approval last fall, the City Council voted to make the repeal a reality. A provision repealing the law at the state level was passed in this year’s legislative session.
“It just seems like it’s an issue that some people chuckle about, some people are really passionate about overturning it, some people are passionate about not overturning it,” said Phil Jents, community relations officer for the city of Duluth.
City Councilor Gary Anderson, who started representing the neighborhoods in January, said he heard a lot about the issue when he was campaigning last year.
Businesses along Superior Street will most likely be the ones applying for licenses. Anderson said that, after the citywide vote, he voted against the repeal at the council level, knowing 47 percent of the residents who lived in the affected neighborhoods didn’t want the change.
“I voted against it in order to support those people,” Anderson said, adding that he knew it was going to pass anyway.
Some residents told him they felt the law gave the neighborhoods a special quality, he said, while others moved there because they wanted to raise kids in a place without bars.
“People, for the most part, will be fine with the fact that they can go out and have a beer or a glass of wine with supper,” he said. Some are more concerned about bars and liquor stores moving in.
Cathy Podeszwa, who has lived in Lakeside since 1993, said she voted against repealing the law in the referendum partly because liquor is easily available nearby. Mostly, she said, she voted against it because the law was a part of the annexation agreement.
“It’s not that I have superstrong feelings against it,” she said. “I felt like it was historical and should be sort of honored.”
But she said she knows repealing the law will help restaurants and coffee shops in the neighborhood, and that’ll be “a really good thing.”
Amity Coffee has been approved for a license to sell beer and wine and hopes to have its beer taps flowing with locally made brews by Oct. 1.