Advertisement:
Post a story

Entertainment ›
Food and drink ›
News ›

Once-dry Wheaton ready for weekend Ale Fest

Although the Wheaton Ale Fest, which takes place on Saturday, is not the first outdoor event in Wheaton to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages, local observers say that it indisputably is the first to orient itself solely around them.

And while an ale fest might not be news in other communities, it raises eyebrows in Wheaton, which has a  large evangelical Christian population and prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages from 1887 until 1985.

Wheaton Ale Fest, which will take place on Front Street from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, will feature more than 100 styles of beers from craft brewers around the nation. The event, which is being hosted by the Wheaton Park District in conjunction with the Downtown Wheaton Association and the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce to bring more visitors to downtown Wheaton’s shops and restaurants, also will allow visitors to vote for their favorite Illinois craft beer.

An outdoor event like the Wheaton Ale Fest would have been unimaginable three decades ago, when Wheaton was still dry. After Prohibition ended in 1933,  Wheaton residents voted the town dry in 1934, and for 50 years afterward, the city’s liquor ordinance barred not only the sale of alcoholic beverages, but even the possession and transportation of them. Although the law was seldom enforced, it meant that technically, residents could be arrested for having liquor in their homes.

By the 1980s, the winds of change were blowing. Backed by the late businessman Vern Kiebler, a pro-liquor petition drive started in late 1984,  urging the city to begin allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages. In April 1985, voters had their say in an advisory referendum, voting 4,247 to 3,353  to favor allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages.

At the same time, two decidedly anti-liquor City Council candidates, Daniel L. Fapp and the late Donald Maxwell, both won in April 1985. Fapp, who today lives in Aurora, chuckled when remembering why he opposed the sale of alcohol.

“We read the community wrong,” he said. “The community had changed, and it was time to take a look at it. We had an advisory referendum, and being reasonable people who were just re-elected, and among those who voted for you were folks voting for the referendum, we thought, we might as well go with it.”

With that, council members put together a still-restrictive liquor ordinance permitting alcohol sales in restaurants and grocery stores but barring outdoor liquor consumption, package liquor stores and taverns.

In the intervening years, the City Council gradually loosened liquor restrictions, and Fapp said “it’s turned out very well.”

Today, Wheaton allows beer tents at festivals, underage servers at city restaurants, limited package liquor sales and restaurant signs that advertise that an establishment serves alcohol as well as meals. Festivals that sell alcoholic beverages now include Autumn Fest and even the DuPage County Fair.

Looking back, Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk called the gradual loosening of alcohol restrictions – and the community’s acceptance of them – “typical of Wheaton,” which was not a community that wanted “to go into this too fast.”

“If you look at our history, this is quite a stunning change from what we did 30 years ago, but there are residents who have moved here since 1985 for whom the whole idea of the city’s past prohibition would be news,” Gresk said. “As a city, we’ve had a very gradual and measured response, and the city has eased itself and its population into this mindset. We police it very closely and watch to make sure there are no underage sales.”

Gresk noted that while “some longtime residents might raise an eyebrow” at the notion of an ale fest, he believes the event is a great way to showcase Wheaton’s many businesses.

“It is basically good for our downtown,” he said.

Richard Tampier, a businessman who sits on the boards of both the Downtown Wheaton Association and the Chamber of Commerce, praised the Wheaton Park District’s management of the event, noting that its operations “are usually done first-class.”

“In Wheaton, we just don’t have an issue about losing control at these events,” he said. “People are very serious about maintaining control and having a nice event. Plus, it’s still a family community.”

Even so, Tampier acknowledged that the idea of a beer-themed fest is at odds both with Wheaton’s actual history and with people’s perceptions of the city.

“My friends are shocked. ‘Wheaton!’ they say. ‘I thought you guys were dry!’” Tampier said with a laugh. “I still hear it, and it’s been many, many years.”

Bob Goldsborough

Special to the Tribune

Although the Wheaton Ale Fest, CQ which takes place on Saturday, CQ is not the first outdoor event in Wheaton ever to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages, local observers say that it indisputably is the first such gathering to orient itself solely around them.


And while holding an ale fest might not be news in any other community, things are different in Wheaton – a town that prohibited the sales of alcoholic beverages from 1887 until 1985. CQ With a strong evangelical Christian population, Wheaton’s leaders chose to continue just saying no to alcoholic beverages long after national Prohibition ended in 1933.  CQ


Wheaton Ale Fest, which will take place on Front Street from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, CQ will feature more than 100 CQ different styles of beers from craft brewers around the nation. The event, which is being hosted by the Wheaton Park District in conjunction with the Downtown Wheaton Association and the Wheaton Chamber of Commerce as a way to bring more visitors to downtown Wheaton’s shops and restaurants, also will allow visitors to vote for their favorite Illinois craft beer.  CQ


An outdoor event like the Wheaton Ale Fest would have been unimaginable three decades ago, when Wheaton was still dry. CQ After Prohibition ended in 1933, CQ Wheaton residents voted the town dry in 1934, CQ and for 50 years afterward, CQ the city’s liquor ordinance barred not only the sale of alcoholic beverages, but even the possession and transportation of them. CQ Although the law was seldom enforced, it meant that technically, residents could be arrested for having liquor in their homes.


By the 1980s, the winds of change were blowing. CQ Backed by the late businessman Vern Kiebler, CQ a pro-liquor petition drive started in late 1984, CQ urging the city to begin allowing the sales of alcoholic beverages. In April 1985, the voters had their say in an advisory referendum, voting 4,247 to 3,353 CQ to favor allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages.


At the same time, two decidedly anti-liquor City Council candidates, Daniel L. Fapp CQ and the late Donald Maxwell, CQ both won in April 1985.  CQ


Fapp, who today lives in Aurora, CQ chuckled when remembering why he opposed the sale of alcohol.


“We read the community wrong,” he said. “The community had changed, and it was time to take a look at it. We had an advisory referendum, and being reasonable people who were just re-elected, and among those who voted for you were folks voting for the referendum, we thought, we might as well go with it.”


With that, council members put together a still-restrictive liquor ordinance permitting alcohol sales in restaurants and grocery stores but barring outdoor liquor consumption, package liquor stores and taverns.  CQ


In the intervening years, the City Council gradually has loosened a wide range of liquor restrictions, and Fapp said “it’s turned out very well.”


Today, Wheaton allows beer tents at festivals, underage servers at city restaurants, limited package liquor sales and restaurant signs that advertise that an establishment serves alcohol as well as meals. CQ Festivals that sell alcoholic beverages now include Autumn Fest and even the DuPage County Fair.  CQ


Looking back, Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk CQ called the gradual loosening of alcohol restrictions – and the community’s acceptance of them – “typical of Wheaton,” which was not a community that wanted “to go into this too fast.”


“If you look at our history, this is quite a stunning change from what we did 30 years ago, but there are residents who have moved here since 1985 for whom the whole idea of the city’s past prohibition would be news,” Gresk said. “As a city, we’ve had a very gradual and measured response, and the city has eased itself and its population into this mindset. We police it very closely and watch to make sure there are no underage sales.”


Gresk noted that while “some longtime residents might raise an eyebrow” at the notion of an ale fest, he believes the event is a great way to showcase Wheaton’s many businesses.


“It is basically good for our downtown,” he said.


Richard Tampier, CQ a businessman who sits on the boards of both the Downtown Wheaton Association and the Chamber of Commerce, CQ praised the Wheaton Park District’s management of the event, noting that its operations “are usually done first-class.”


“In Wheaton, we just don’t have an issue about losing control at these events,” he said. “People are very serious about maintaining control and having a nice event. Plus, it’s still a family community.”


Even so, Tampier acknowledged that the idea of a beer-themed fest is at odds both with Wheaton’s actual history and with people’s perceptions of the city.


“My friends are shocked. ‘Wheaton!’ they say. ‘I thought you guys were dry!’” Tampier said with a laugh. “I still hear it, and it’s been many, many years.”

Share this story

Recommended stories