Let them buy liquor. And not just at a state store, but at a supermarket or restaurant or bar.

That’s the message thousands of Marple residents sent by petitioning for the expansion of the township’s liquor laws. During the May primary election, all township voters will get to decide.

When Lisa Egan saw the petition a few weeks ago while grocery shopping at Giant in Broomall, she got excited, immediately signing it. For years, she said, she’s wished she could have a date night with her husband or a glass of wine with her girlfriends at a restaurant — without leaving town.

“It’s about time,” said Egan, who’s lived in the area for 17 years. “I’m not a big drinker. But it’s not about amount, it’s about access.”

Fine Wine and Good Spirits on Sproul Road in Broomall.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
Fine Wine and Good Spirits on Sproul Road in Broomall.

Marple is one of many Philadelphia-area towns that limit alcohol sales. Yet, since the boundaries of the densely packed suburbs can make it difficult to tell where one town ends and another begins, the average suburbanite might not know the law in a specific area.

In Marple, for instance, beer distributors and state stores are permitted, but restaurants, grocery stores, and other retail establishments can’t sell liquor or beer, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. But folks can imbibe at Anthony’s Restaurant at Paxon Hollow Country Club since it’s township-run.

Marple isn’t an outlier in Delaware County. Bethel Township and 10 boroughs (Aldan, Brookhaven, Colwyn, Lansdowne, Parkside, Rutledge, Sharon Hill, Swarthmore, Upland, and Yeadon) also were entirely or partially dry as of January, according to data from the Liquor Control Board.

In Chester County, 20 municipalities have restrictions on the sale of liquor. In Bucks, Lower Makefield Township prohibits the sale of retail liquor and beer. Montgomery County has no dry towns, according to the PLCB data.

In Marple, the recent push was aided by efforts at the Giant supermarket on Springfield Road in Broomall. There, shoppers said, folks sat at tables by the entrances for weeks. On the table was a petition that, if it received enough signatures, would allow Marple residents to vote on whether to ease liquor laws.

Christopher Brand, a Giant spokesperson, confirmed in an emailed statement that the store “engaged with customers" to collect signatures for the petition, and that the company hopes to sell alcohol at a new store to open in the township.

Marple officials did not respond to several requests for comment, but documents posted on the township website confirmed that voters will see the following question on their primary ballot May 21: “Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in Marple Township of Delaware County?”

Businesses on West Chester Pike in Broomall, one of the best-known sections of Marple Township.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
Businesses on West Chester Pike in Broomall, one of the best-known sections of Marple Township.

The town’s partially dry status dates back to the end of Prohibition, when Pennsylvanians voted to determine whether their individual municipality would “stay wet” or “go dry,” according to the township documents. Marple became dry in the retail sale of beer and liquor. More than 30 years later, in 1971, residents again voted against expanding liquor licenses in the town, according to the township.

To change from a dry town to a wet one, or vice versa, a referendum must be voted on. This vote can take place during any election, according to the state liquor code. For that to happen, a petition with signatures equal to at least 25 percent of the highest vote cast for any office in town in the preceding general election must be presented.

Marple Township, according to its documents, received a petition with that many signatures.

Egan and fellow supporters of looser liquor laws in Marple say it’s time their town gets with the times.

“We’re constantly having to go out to eat," Egan, 52, said. “I feel like we’re going to businesses that aren’t our local businesses.”

For years, she said, she’s wondered when Marple would get the momentum to change the law.

Egan said she thought that as nearby towns added more restaurants and bars, built town centers, and became more thriving nighttime destinations, Marple residents took notice and thought: Why can’t that happen here?

“I think it’s become so prevalent because Newtown Square looks so great,” she said. “Media, Havertown. ... They’re all small community areas where you can go, take a walk, and get a drink.”

Dry Towns in Delco

The dozen towns shown in red in Delaware County prohibit or restrict alcoholic beverage sales.

SOURCE: Pa. Liquor Control Board
Staff Graphic

Former Broomall, Marple Township resident Mary Bower, who now lives in New Jersey, said she’d like to see nice restaurants come to the community where she grew up and still frequently visits.

“Growing up in Broomall all my life, it’s so disappointing to go back and see how little they really offer residents,” Bower said. “It’s just disappointing that Broomall gets set in their ways.”

Not all agree, of course, and the primary vote will be telling.

One Facebook user, who couldn’t be reached for comment, wrote on a township page: “Wrong thing to do for this community. There are already places, here, to buy wine and liquor.”

If the majority of residents vote yes, the Liquor Control Board will be able to issue liquor licenses for bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and other establishments in Marple. However, those licenses would have to be transferred from other Delaware County businesses since the county now exceeds its liquor-license quota.

Pennsylvania has long been criticized for its control of the alcohol market. It wasn’t until 2016 that the state allowed restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores to sell wine.