Prohibition lives on in Haddonfield, New Jersey
Anyone who wants a beer in Haddonfield, New Jersey had better be ready for a drive: buying or selling alcohol anywhere within city limits is punishable with jail time.
Since long before Prohibition — the 13-year national ban on alcohol that started in 1920 — Haddonfield has been a “dry town.” And the borough, just a stone’s throw away from the big city of Philadelphia, has kept the laws on the books ever since.
Downtown in this burg of 11,500 people, founded by Quakers, a visitor will find a juice bar, rococo tea salons and cafes serving hot chocolate.
But at the end of the two main roads leading out of town — exactly where the next town’s border starts — he’ll find a bar, a wine shop, and yet another bar, in a country club.
At Nero’s Cigars, a smoking club and Haddonfield institution, customers puff their Cubans while sipping on cappuccinos.
“It is an old archaic rule and a religious thing that should be changed,” lamented Michael Di Placido, lounging in a massive leather chair.
His friend, Michael Pav, agreed, saying a bar would be a place “to have a nice drink after your work.”
“It is just where people get together, have fun and meet a lot of different people of all different ages. It is better for the society,” he said.
But the only bar in town, The Indian Tavern, has been transformed into a museum.
There, you learn that the last pint of cider was served in 1873, which was when Haddonfield, strongly influenced by temperance leagues run mainly by Methodists, put the kibosh on hooch.
“New Jersey was a place full of gin drinkers,” recounts Bill Reynolds, former mayor of Haddonfield. “Fighting against alcohol and its vices was the moral battle of Methodists. For them, it was the drink of the devil.”
In 1933, when Washington repealed Prohibition, the federal law allowed state and local governments latitude on how they wanted to regulate the issue.
Haddonfield “wasted no time and passed a resolution to remain dry,” explained Dough Rauschenberger, former curator at the main library.
They’re not alone: dozens of cities and hundreds of counties across the US — especially in the so-called “Bible Belt” in the South, where fundamentalist Christians hold sway — have remained “dry.”
In Haddonfield, the law was last debated in 1976, when a restaurant owner lobbied for a vote.
“There was a referendum and it failed four to one,” recalled mayor Tish Colombi. “The message is loud and clear that people like their community the way it is.”
“Not having an alcohol store in town does send a strong message to our children about how this community feels about that,” she emphasized.
“They know that we try to make their childhood better and safer, so I do believe it makes a difference.”
Bunny Galland, vice president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, one of the groups behind the original prohibition movement, insisted that, despite the popular conception: “I do believe Prohibition was a success.”
“We have tons of documents claiming that police department crime fell down, jails were closing because of lack of crimes, all kinds of problems that disappeared, kidney institutions shut down, all kind of hospitals shut down because it was better,” she insisted.
That’s a sharp contrast to most historical accounts, which indicate that liquor consumption soared along with organized crime, which raced to meet the demand for under the counter liquor created during Prohibition.
But in picturesque Haddonfield, “people here are pretty satisfied with the way things are” without alcohol, said Reynolds.
After all, for anyone who wants a tipple, “they are surrounded by liquor outlets” in nearby towns, “and our restaurants are BYOB which allows people to bring whatever alcohol they want.”
That’s the system at the Italian restaurant “Tre Famiglia,” and owner Robert Cipollone said it works better for everyone.
“They have a bigger selection, lower costs,” without paying the standard three or four times mark up for a restaurant bottle of wine, he said.
And “we don’t have to pay the licenses and the insurance liabilities that are outrageous.”
Not everyone agrees with him, at least outside of Haddonfield.
In Damascus, one of the last “dry” cities in Maryland, two restaurants fought against liquor ban, sparking a referendum that resulted, last month, in their customers getting their first legal taste of beer.