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Say Bye To Dry: Wilkinsburg, Bellevue To Grant Liquor Licenses

Residents in Wilkinsburg and Bellevue voted to pass referendums Tuesday allowing liquor licenses for the first time in 80 years.

Marlee Gallagher, communications and outreach coordinator for the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation (WCDC), said the group hopes the measure will spur much-needed economic growth.

“We think at the WCDC that this will bring in new businesses that have looked at other neighborhoods beyond Wilkinsburg in the past because they couldn’t get a liquor license,” Gallagher said. “But also, you know, we think this will help some of our small businesses that are already in town that want to get a liquor license, too.”

Kathy Coder, who is on the Bellevue Council, shared Gallagher’s excitement.

“We have been waiting for four years, so we are ecstatic about what just happened,” she said. “We really feel like this is going to help our downtown and be able to draw in a lot of really neat, cool restaurants, which will also draw in people to Bellevue.”

Bellevue voters had a chance to pass a similar referendum in 2011, but it failed by 87 votes. Coder thinks voters were more aware about how alcohol sales could help the community.

“I think people realized that we have to do something differently,” Coder said. “We don’t believe this is the ‘silver bullet,’ but we think it’s a part of our economic development and our downtown growth, and I think people just kind of got their head out of the sand and realized that we needed to all rally together and do something.”

Business owners in Wilkinsburg and Bellevue can't buy new liquor licenses immediately; Allegheny County has reached the maximum number allowed by the Public Utility Commission. Owners can buy licenses from other businesses not interested in owning one anymore.

Gallagher acknowledged concerns that welcoming alcohol sales could mean an increase in violence and general rowdiness. Anecdotes from the South Side and Homewood resonated, she said.

Wilkinsburg's transition will be a community process, she said, much like in Lawrenceville and Bloomfield.

“You know, they involved the community in every step of the way, just so residents aren’t caught off guard, and establishments aren’t just opening up without anyone realizing it,” Gallagher said. “We want to be involved with the businesses that come here, and I think that that’s helped a lot of people determine that they want to vote ‘yes.’”

Wilkinsburg passed the referendum 1,155 to 747; Bellevue passed it 887 to 518.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.
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