Nearly 100 years since Prohibition began, New Wilmington finally served its first alcoholic beverages Saturday.
The Tavern on the Square, located at 108 N. Market St., held an honorary first toast with invited borough officials and leaders, business owners and others who helped restaurant owner Todd Ulicny in his fight to make New Wilmington a “wet town.”
Prohibition, under the 18th Amendment, banned the production, sale and transportation of alcohol in America. The 21st Amendment, ratified in 1933, repealed Prohibition.
New Wilmington, despite the law’s repeal, continued with its own decry to ban alcohol sales although it is home to the Fractured Grape Wine Cellars and the Hop Asylum brewery.
“Our restaurant is called the Tavern on the Square, but it’s never really lived up to its namesake as a tavern,” Todd Ulicny said.
He added that other restaurants like his in the area serve alcohol, leaving him at a disadvantage.
Ulicny bought the 89-year-old restaurant — the building it occupies is 170 years old — in March 2018 and began his fight to serve alcohol in December 2018.
On May 21, 2019, a referendum passed by a vote of 240-114 to “grant liquor licenses for the sale of liquor” in New Wilmington. Previous referendums failed in 2003, 2007 and 2015, losing by only 27 votes.
The Ulicnys formed a committee of officials and business leaders to educate the public on what voting “yes” to the referendum would bring, in terms of economic impact, to the borough by hosting public forums, knocking on doors and collecting petition signatures.
“Primarily what we were seeking as a team and committee was to increase the opportunity for economic growth in our town and create an environment where additional entrepreneurs would bring business into New Wilmington,” Ulicny said. “It was really quite a journey. It wasn’t without bumps and bruises along the way. We worked very hard to put this out there and sort of brave the blowback in the community. There were some people who didn’t want alcohol to come to New Wilmington.”
John Geidner, a New Wilmington borough councilman and Westminster College accounting professor, was a member of the committee leading the way to overturn the dry borough law. He was granted the honor of being the first to be served alcohol in a restaurant, a fete that comes just six days shy of the 100th anniversary of Prohibition.
The restaurant also had a sign on its wall proclaiming “Prohibition has ended. The Tavern on the Square is now serving beer and wine. Sponsored by Yuengling.”
Yuengling, based in Pottstown, is America’s oldest brewer. Ulicny said the beer company gave the restaurant the sign for free. He said his restaurant can resonate with the Yuengling brand which began operation in 1829.
“We just identify with sort of nostalgia so we’ve created a partnership with Yuengling for that purpose,” Ulicny said.
Saturday’s event was a long time coming for many in the New Wilmington community.
“It wasn’t a single effort,” Ulicny said. “My wife, Alma, and I started it. We immediately recruited business leaders in this town. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t get this done.”