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Voters To Decide On State’s Last Dry Bastion

March 27, 1986

RICHLAND CENTER, Wis. (AP) _ The last time you could legally buy beer or booze in this southwestern Wisconsin city, Prohibition had just ended and Franklin Roosevelt was president.

A ballot to determine whether Wisconsin’s last dry city stays that way is expected to draw a record turnout Tuesday.

Backers of the four referenda dealing with legalizing alcoholic beverages say a change would do more than fill glasses: It would attract business and help fill empty downtown stores in the community of 5,000 people.

″It’s time for a change,″ says Jim Leyda, an automobile dealer active in the Richland Center Advancement Association. ″This town has been stagnant for years. We’d like to fill up those empty stores, not with taverns, but with viable businesses.″

But the Rev. Kenneth Brice, a retired United Methodist minister, thinks otherwise.

″They (the wets) think they have the answer to any industrial or economic problems,″ he said. ″The record shows it’s just the opposite. We have no need for it. It would just bring in problems.″

Brice is active in Citizens for a Strong Dry Center, made up mostly of ministers. The city has nearly two dozen churches.

C. Lee Cheaney, director of the inheritance and excise tax bureau of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, said Richland Center is the last dry city in the state. There are also 53 dry towns and three dry villages, he said.

Richland Center first went liquorless in 1909 and stayed that way except for a few months after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. A local ordinance has kept it dry since.

The four questions Tuesday ask whether beer and liquor should be sold in taverns and retail stores.

In 1967 a liquor referendum lost by 75 votes and a beer vote by 107.

In anticipation of a wet vote, the City Council this month passed an ordinance that would limit licenses to supper clubs and in effect bar traditional taverns.

Leyda says the dispute is not a moral issue, that farm-income problems are affecting the community and that because of the liquor ban Richland Center has had difficulty attracting businesses.

″Holiday Inns said that if they can’t get a liquor license they won’t build a hotel,″ he said.

Brice said, however, that Richland Center has ″plenty of other things″ to attract tourists and businesses, including good parks, cultural activities connected with the University of Wisconsin-Richland Center two-year campus and a Frank Lloyd Wright museum in a former warehouse designed by the architect.

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