SIDNEY — Many wedding receptions wouldn’t be complete without a steady flow of champagne and other libations.

But two local groups that were planning to host weddings at their lakeside properties this summer, along with birthday parties and other festivities, have been forced to put those plans on hold.

Sidney, they learned, has been a dry town since at least the 1930s, when the nationwide prohibition of alcoholic beverages was lifted. That means open containers of liquor can’t be served on-site anywhere in town.

In the past, caterers have been able to obtain special permits to serve liquor at local events. But last spring, when caterers were preparing for an event at the Snow Pond Center for the Arts, a state official informed them that no money could be exchanged for open containers of liquor in Sidney — period.

That was news to Christa Johnson, director of development at Snow Pond Center for the Arts, which in recent years has been trying to host more special events on its sprawling campus on the eastern shore of Messalonskee Lake. According to Johnson, the caterers have been able to get the event permits in the past.

But Craig McCabe, the state liquor inspector, said those permits were issued by mistake and that, by law, regulators couldn’t issue them anymore.

“When we realized Sidney was a dry town, we didn’t allow catering permits (to be issued anymore),” McCabe said. “At least one or two were approved by mistake. I’m not sure how many or for how long.”

That realization has caused the Snow Pond Center for the Arts — which is also the site of New England Music Camp — and another local venue, the Lakeside Lodge, to stop planning the catered parties they were hoping to hold this summer.

Those groups also have helped collect enough signatures to get a change to the town’s liquor rules on the ballot this spring.

Now Sidney residents will be able to vote on a referendum question that would allow the sale of liquor that is to be consumed on the premises of licensed establishments on all days but Sunday.

That vote will happen March 17, a day before the annual Town Meeting. There also will be a public hearing about the proposed rule change at 7 p.m. March 6 in the Town Office.

Sidney town officials could not be reached Friday to explain the town’s liquor ordinance.

The town already has approved a rule change that allows the sale of closed containers of liquor at places such as Annie’s Variety store, McCabe said, but the referendum must be passed if venues want to host cash bars at their events. Last summer, after the Snow Pond Center learned that Sidney’s status as a dry town would prevent caterers from serving liquor, they asked brides and grooms already planning to have weddings there to bring their own liquor and serve it to invited guests.

But that work-around doesn’t make a great sales pitch to couples thinking about holding their wedding receptions at Snow Pond Center next summer and the caterers they’re hoping to hire, Johnson said.

Johnson also worries that the bring-your-own-liquor approach to events is not safe, and she said that other local businesses and organizations could benefit from having the option to serve liquor.

Maggi Milligan, whose family owns the Lakeside Lodge, a venue that’s also on Messalonskee Lake, was similarly blindsided by the town’s liquor rules.

Her family’s venue, which is at Bangs Beach, burned down 10 years ago. Only in recent years have she and her siblings been rebuilding the property. They recently received a loan to fund cosmetic renovations to it ahead of the summer wedding season.

But last month, Milligan said, she learned that caterers would not be able to get a permit to serve liquor there. Now she and her siblings are waiting to see the outcome of the referendum before making any of the planned improvements to their property.

“We’re hesitant to spend (the financing),” Milligan said. “We got a lot of community interest (in Lakeside Lodge), but I don’t think we’re going to start booking people.”

“We’ve lost business,” said her sister, Maggi Milligan. “We’ve lost this year, I’d say.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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