This year marks a century since the 18th Amendment was ratified. That amendment banned the manufacturing and sale of intoxicating beverages across the nation. But had it not been repealed 14 years later, would cities such as Wichita Falls be able to thrive or would they all run dry?
After being signed into law, the 18th Amendment was both hailed and hated. While it was meant to reduce or eliminate alcoholism, domestic abuse and other drinking-related issues, Prohibition created its own problems, such as civil disobedience—resulting in bootlegging and the rise of organized crime.
Many underground private brewers and consumers were killed or poisoned making their own unrefined ‘white lightning.’
Another big blow came to businesses, responsible for satisfying American’s thirst, felt most notably during the early years of the Great Depression when jobs were desperately needed.
Though Prohibition is no longer standing, one Wichita Falls business is, in a building whose previous owners, like so many others, had to find a new way to stay open when Prohibition was put in place.
“It’s cool to me that this building is still standing after being built in 1884 and is still functioning as a building with a purpose,” Hook & Ladder Wine & Coffee co-owner Bill Weske said.
When Weske was looking at setting up shop, he said he had no idea of the building’s history.
“This building had been a saloon for most if its life. And then, when that happened, they had to adjust and do what they had to do to still survive in this building and turned it into a meat market: not just any meat market, but a sanitary meat market,” Weske said.
Several years later, when as the song goes, “Happy Days are Here Again,” alcohol returned to 616 7th Street.
According to the latest numbers from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, had alcohol not been made legal again, the state would be missing out on more than $9.4 million in tax collections on distilled spirits. For wine, that comes to more than $1.7 million.
On a local level, mixed beverage sales taxes for Wichita Falls come to more than $313,000.
“They go into our general fund. So, they help the city’s general operations like providing police and fire protection, providing streets, road and services,” Wichita Falls Deputy City Manager Jim Dockery said.
Without those funds, Wichitans’ bank accounts would be smaller. “We would have to shift to property tax-payers if we weren’t receiving that money from mixed beverage tax,” Dockery said.
The revenue stream from sales taxes on retail sales of alcohol is even more significant. Dockery explained while the state comptroller doesn’t break down sales taxes by alcohol, the estimated total is substantial.
“We receive approximately one million dollars a year in sales taxes related to alcohol sales. And we receive those sales taxes and use them for things like economic development projects and 4-B sales tax assistance projects,” Dockery said.
That sales tax comes not just from Wichitans or even Texomans.
“That’s a tourism aspect,” Wichita Falls Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Henry Florsheim said. “So, those things are economic development tools. They actually bring money in from the outside,” Florsheim said.
The more options for adult beverages and nightlife, Florsheim explained, the more the city could succeed.
“If you talk about what’s the ideal place for you to visit or live, it’s going to be recreation and schools, family activties and people want to have a drink with dinner as well. And so, the progressive cities make that happen,” Florsheim said.
Yet ironically, Weske said it’s not lost on him so much money is made on what so many during prohibition and now are addicted to.
“There’s a fine mixture of how you have to do this. There’s laws and rules we have to go by and watch and making sure they’re old enough and making sure we don’t over-serve,” Weske said.
However, as to the chances of Prohibition ever making a comeback, Weske puts the odds at slim and none.
“In this day and time, if they tried to do something like that, it would almost be unheard of,” Weske said.
But if tee-totaling was to ever be enforced again, Weske said he would never be thirsty.
“[I like] tea. I like tea and coffee,” Weske said.
For now, many will continue enjoying legal alcoholic beverages for years to come. Weske, like other alcohol-based business owners, will drink to that. The only two states of the then 48 that rejected the 18th Amendment were Connecticut and Rhode Island.
In just a few years, in 2033, will mark 100 years since the 18th Amendment was repealed.