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Voters allow Shaker Village to serve alcohol

gkocher1@herald-leader.com

HARRODSBURG — Future guests at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill will be able to order alcohol by the drink with meals, thanks to a referendum that passed Tuesday night.

Voters in the North Burgin precinct approved a measure that allows alcohol to be served at the largest restored Shaker settlement in the country. The unofficial count was 426-341.

The vote was the first of its kind since the Kentucky legislature passed a bill earlier this year that allowed local-option elections for precincts with sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places that also have restaurants and lodging.

Supporters of the measure contended that Shaker Village needs the ability to serve alcohol in order to boost declining visitations and paid admissions to the site.

It may take between three and six months before the first drink will be served. Shaker Village anticipates that it will take that long for planning, licensing and training of staff, said Aimee Darnell, publicist and event manager for Shaker Village.

“The ability to sell alcohol by the drink will help us attract new visitors, generate additional revenue, and continue our mission of preserving and maintaining this National Historic landmark,” Darnell said.

Some churches and citizens had opposed the idea of bringing alcohol to “Shakertown.” Rural Mercer County is dry, but Harrodsburg, the county seat, and Danville in neighboring Boyle County allow the sale of alcohol by the drink at larger restaurants.

Burgin resident Florine Schulte, who opposed alcohol sales, said it didn’t surprise her that the referendum passed.

“I saw very few letters to the editor — probably only me — writing against it,” Schulte said.

The Shakers were a religious sect in the 1800s known for their whirling dances during religious services. While they generally abstained from alcohol, the Pleasant Hill Shakers purchased, consumed and made alcoholic beverages – and sold small quantities. Records show that they made rhubarb wine, and in the early 19th century they operated a tavern that served alcohol to guests.

Today the restored Shaker Village has more than 30 buildings on 3,000 acres and plays a major role in Mercer County’s $28 million tourism industry.

But Shaker Village administrators had argued that approving the sale of alcohol in its restaurant would help reverse the slide in paid admissions that went from 161,000 in 1990 to 56,000 last year.

The non-profit educational organization says expenses of $5.3 million were greater than income by $1.5 million last year.

The organization says there have been operating losses every year since 1996. That’s due to a national trend of decreases in visitations to outdoor history museums.

The deficits have been covered by dipping into a $10 million endowment and from individual contributions.

“If the current situation continues, the endowment reserves could be depleted, endangering the long-term viability of Shaker Village,” according to information supplied by Darnell.