Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wilkinsburg among Towns Seeking to Become 'Wet'

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wilkinsburg among Towns Seeking to Become 'Wet'

Article excerpt

When it comes to the question of liquor licenses in Bellevue - a question that will be put to borough voters in the upcoming May primary election - Sabatino "Sam" DiBattista sees both sides.

A borough resident and restaurateur who formerly operated his high-end dining room in Bellevue for a decade, Mr. DiBattista knows what it is to be hampered as a businessman by Bellevue's status as a "dry town."

"I couldn't do what I wanted to do with the restaurant," Mr. DiBattista said of Vivo, which opened in 2000 in Bellevue and moved four years ago to Sewickley, where he was able to acquire a liquor license. That, in turn, allowed him to develop Vivo Kitchen's reputation for craft cocktails and fine wine - which now account for about 30 percent of all sales- in addition to delicious food.

He understands the fuel behind the grass-roots effort to allow the sale of alcohol in Bellevue.

At the same time, he also understands the opponents of that effort - opponents who rallied four years ago to defeat by fewer than 100 votes the same referendum question that will appear on this year's election ballot.

"We don't want to [encourage the institution of businesses] where they end up being a place for people to hang out and get drunk," he said.

That being said, he predicted he will vote yes on the ballot question in the May 19 primary election: "Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in the borough of Bellevue?"

Tom Fodi, a key player in the "A Better Bellevue" movement, is glad for the support and actually understands the concerns of Mr. DiBatista and those who comprise the "No Bars in Bellevue" group that defeated the referendum four years ago.

Mr. Fodi, a pastor of The Hills Church in the South Hills and the owner of Dignity Home Care Professionals of Green Tree, believes that the economic market will allow things to unfold as they should: The voices of 8,000 or so residents will encourage entrepreneurs to bring to the borough reputable restaurants that will serve to bolster the town as a destination for locals and those who live outside the limits.

"We know that people enjoy wine or beer with dinner, going out and having a good time. Now, you can't have wine with dinner unless you bring [a bottle] with you [to a restaurant]," he said. "Being able to obtain a liquor license is an incentive for restaurants to come to town and that could contribute to a domino effect.

"This is all about economics," he continued, acknowledging that banning liquor licenses also goes against his general libertarian philosophy. "I can't see making something illegal in our town that's been legal in our country since the 1930s."

Bellevue's history as a dry town predates Prohibition, Mr. Fodi siad.

He said he understands the worry that liquor licenses will "open the floodgates to endless binge drinking" but he pointed to neighboring municipalities that host bars and said research indicates that these establishments police themselves. …

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