ROCKPORT — A local temperance leader from the 1850s and nostalgia for the past kept Rockport from opening a liquor store for 162 years, according to historians and residents.
On Saturday afternoon, that changed.
After months of meeting with residents, distributors, and sales representatives, grocery store Whistlestop Market welcomed the public on Saturday to its new beer and wine section.
“It’s just a historic day,” said 44-year-old Rockport resident Theo Hall, who grew up hearing the story of Hannah Jumper, a leader in the 19th-century temperance movement who historians say once led a rampage through town to destroy bottles of rum and other liquor with hatchets.
Margaret Sullivan, the beer and wine specialist at Whistlestop Market, said behind Saturday’s event was a long process of obtaining a liquor license, tasting wines, and building a collection, which includes popular wines, sparkling wines, domestic reds and whites, and local craft beer.
“We like our history,” Sullivan said. “We like the ways things have been. We pride ourselves on being a small, seaside village … I think there was a big resistance to changing that, which I understand because it was so much a part of the town’s character to be one of the last dry towns in Massachusetts. But I think that the times have changed.”
The town banned alcohol sales after the 1856 Hannah Jumper rampage, which pushed people to abstain from liquor, said Molly O’Hagan Hardy, director of the Cape Ann Museum’s library and archives. The group of women raided 13 vending establishments, houses, and barns and smashed $700 worth of spirits, said Leslie Bartlett, historian at Rockport’s Sandy Bay Historical Society.
Women were greatly affected by the “evils of overindulgence and alcohol,” O’Hagan Hardy said.
“There were drunk husbands, brothers, and fathers — and women were the ones on the domestic scene that suffered the most from this,” she said. “Men were making decisions about the laws, and women were the ones being affected the most in the private sphere. So this was a way of having a voice.”
Although Rockport didn’t have a liquor store before Saturday, the town began allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine, and cocktails with meals in 2006 after a ballot measure passed the year before. Two years ago, the restrictions loosened more, and restaurants also were permitted to serve alcohol to customers who did not purchase food, Sullivan said. The last hurdle was opening an alcohol store.
Peter Beacham, who was instrumental in getting Whistlestop Market a liquor license, kicked off the Saturday celebration when he bought the store’s first bottles of wine — a cabernet sauvignon and a pinot grigio.
“I wanted people involved who were interested in the town,” Beacham said. “Not people who had proprietary interest.”
While the store isn’t offering hard liquor, Sullivan said she made sure to include a good mix of options and met with community members to hear what they wanted. Her goal was to prioritize local, reasonably priced choices, she said.
Karen Wolff, 72, who works at the hardware store across the street, said having the new liquor store was a boon to Rockport.
“It’s going to help the town so much,” she said. “It’s going to make a lot of people happy.”
Suzanne Wonson, a 65-year-old Rockport resident, also attended Whistlestop Market’s reception with enthusiam.
“I’m here to support the community and the store opening,” said Wonson, who’s lived in Rockport for 42 years. “We’ve waited a long time for something like this. It’s just a great offering.”