Prohibition vs. preservation: ‘Dry’ Nevada town seeks to lift booze ban
For years, Alamo residents who wanted alcohol simply drove to gas stations and small stores outside the town limits. Then last year the town’s attention turned to self-preservation.
Updated February 18, 2023 - 7:19 am
ALAMO — In the small rural town of Alamo in Lincoln County there are no bars or restaurants or stores selling liquor. By law, businesses are not allowed to sell beer, wine or spirits within its borders, a prohibition in place since 1985.
But that ban on alcohol in this “dry” desert oasis, 95 miles north of Las Vegas on U.S. Highway 93, could be ending very soon in the name of jobs, economic development and defending local businesses against the encroachment of corporate chain stores.
On Tuesday, a recommended ordinance to repeal the current ban, passed on Nov. 25, 1985, and permit the sale of alcoholic beverages in town goes before the Board of Commissioners at the Lincoln County Courthouse in Pioche, the county seat.
Should the commission agree to permit Alamo to go “wet,” it would leave only Panaca, a burg in the county 70 miles northeast of Alamo, as the only remaining dry town in Nevada. Panaca got its no-liquor sales law in 1986.
Alamo’s town board passed the alcohol sales proposal in November on a 5-0 vote, with three of those votes coming from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose adherents are counseled to refrain from alcohol and other “strong drinks” for health reasons.
That cultural feeling, however, still runs deep in the town and is the main reason why the prohibition lasted so long, according to town board Chairman Vern Holaday, who introduced the proposed law and who owns the Alamo Inn motel on U.S. 93.
“I think it’s just our, the Mormon heritage we have here,” said Holaday, 62, a graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno and former longtime executive of Harrah’s (now Caesars) Entertainment who is not an LDS member. “I mean, it’s just, the religion states that they can’t, ‘we’re not supposed to drink alcohol.’ ”
For years, residents who wanted alcohol simply drove relatively short distances to gas stations and small stores outside the town limits to buy package liquor and drink legally at home.
Then last year the town’s attention turned to self-preservation.
The opening of an outlet of the Las Vegas-based Green Valley Grocery chain, selling both gasoline and liquor, in tiny Ash Springs 7 miles north of Alamo on U.S. 93 drew concerns.
Some locals think the corporation, with more than 60 stores in Clark County and one in Nye County, has the ability to buy in bulk and sell at lower prices, and they worry about how it will impact Great Basin Foods, Alamo’s locally owned and only supermarket.
‘Times changed a little bit’
There is also speculation that another grocery store, perhaps a Green Valley Grocery, serving package liquor might be built just feet north of the town limits at the site of a former truck stop, driving customers to buy there and taking business away from Great Basin Foods and the adjacent Sinclair gas station.
“It wasn’t a change of heart or anything like that on the alcohol,” Holaday explained about the town’s apparent shift on booze. “It was more looking at the business aspect is what was driving it more than the religious aspect.
“Times changed a little bit,” he said, “and they can see how businesses are developing in the valley and how it’s going to put the ones in town at a disadvantage over the ones outside of town.”
“The main thing people want here are the jobs,” he said. “There are not a whole lot of opportunities here.”
When the town board called forward the proposal at the November 2022 meeting, “we didn’t have one person come up to oppose it” because people in town knew those seeking licenses would still have to satisfy state and county restrictions and pass muster with the town board, he said.
Under Lincoln County law, there can be no bars or liquor sales businesses within 1,500 feet of a school or church or another liquor establishment unless it is within a commercial land use zone, according to license regulations Title 4, Chapter 419.
That is a significant fact since Alamo is only about a square mile across, meaning that the businesses would have to be away from the central part of town and next to U.S. 93, Holaday said.
Applicants for liquor licenses in Alamo also would most likely have to apply for a zoning change to open a business, he said.
“If you would put them in, I would imagine they would almost have to be on the highway, away from schools,” he said.
‘I don’t think it will change anything’
The one LDS church in Alamo has three wards and its parishioners make up the dominant share of inhabitants of the town, Holaday said. The church shares the town with two congregations of other denominations, the Christian Bible Fellowship and Trinity Assembly of God.
Over at the Alamo Senior Center near the town’s rodeo grounds, Pauline Broadhead, 80, a member of the LDS church, said she is not worried if the county ends the ban on alcohol, because people can buy it out of town already.
“I don’t think it will change anything,” Broadhead said. “Because if they’re gonna get it, they’re gonna go to Caliente and get it or they’re gonna go to Vegas and get it and bring it home anyway. Doesn’t matter.”
But Broadhead said she doesn’t want to see alcohol sold in the Great Basin Foods store “where there’s the kids (who) are all going in there for lunch, because of the temptation. The families all go in there for lunch. It’s just I don’t want it anywhere around there.”
Susan McGhie, 72, who was raised Catholic, was quick to answer if a bar opened next to the senior center.
“I’d go. Hell yeah, I’d go,” she said.
“I won’t,” Broadhead said.
“I just don’t think people should drink,” she said. “I don’t think anybody should drink to excess. … Because it’s not good for your body, it’s not healthy for people around you.”
‘Just a nice quiet town’
Jason Richards, 50, a plumber, standing outside his three-bedroom home that looks like the suburban houses common in Las Vegas, said he buys beer and wine from the Sunset View Inn, just outside of town.
“To me it doesn’t matter either way,” Richards said. “They always know who likes to have beer and who doesn’t. It’s a small town. I don’t think it will change at all.”
The town sits within the Pahranagat Valley, near two lakes, wetlands and several farms and cattle ranches.
In the 1860s, the Pahranagat Valley was an infamous site of cattle rustling and an original resident called it “the toughest place I ever saw,” according to the Lincoln County Authority of Tourism.
Alamo is also where many residents like to keep things basically the same, and some remain opposed to things like building sidewalks and gutters, Holaday said.
“Yeah, we got kind of a, just a nice quiet town, and everybody kind of likes it that way,” he added. “I should say most people kind of like it that way, for everybody.”
The borders of the unincorporated town were first created in 1905 and the town’s name is based on the Spanish word, álamo, for the poplar trees growing in the area.
Broadhead said town residents are laser-focused on their local sports including basketball, football and rodeo. Classes at elementary, middle and high schools are from Monday to Thursday so students can leave for sporting events on Friday.
Local boys and girls compete in state and national rodeo events such as barrel racing, team roping and goat tying at the town’s Rodeo Arena, she said.
Alamo’s Pahranagat Valley High School varsity football team last November beat Henderson’s Green Valley Christian to win Nevada’s 1A central region championship, the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association reported.
The U.S. Census Bureau listed Alamo’s population, likely including other parts of the Pahranagat Valley, at 1,142 people in 2020. However, occupants of the town alone total 695 as of this year, according to worldpopulationreview.com.
Holaday, who estimates Alamo’s population at about 550, said the census count probably included some people living nearby in Pahranagat Valley outside the town limits.
The closest place to Alamo to buy alcohol is a small-scale liquor store, behind a locked door, at the Sunset View Inn, a motel just over a mile south of the town border on U.S. 93. Its owner, Pam Broxson, 56, keeps it as a side business to her motel and its 11 rooms, each with a different theme, including ones based on Area 51 and aliens and the 1960s hippie era, with black lights.
If liquor is legalized in Alamo, and the Great Basin Foods and Sinclair gas station started to sell alcohol, “I’ll close the liquor store because they’ll get it cheaper. Cheaper than I get it because I’m the little guy,” Broxson said. “If I keep any of the products, it’d be Budweiser (beer).”
She is already preparing to let her inventory of liquor dwindle to transition to sell microwave pizza to tourists after hours.
Broxson said that Great Basin Foods and Sinclair may have to face off against a larger Green Valley Grocery, with an area for trucks, if it moves to the site of the old truck stop.
That could include a laundry and “the whole nine yards,” she said. “It’d kill this little town. You’ve got Sinclair here that’s family run, and you’ll have a corporation. Sinclair doesn’t have enough parking for the truckers.”
“I have issues with a big corporation coming in to try to take over our little bitty town,” she said.
Contact Jeff Burbank at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0382. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.
Remember the Alamo visitors
For a tiny speck of a town in rural Nevada, Alamo has hosted its share of celebrities over the years.
First, there is the irony of the late actress Janet Leigh, star of the famous Alfred Hitchcock 1960 horror film “Psycho,” who regularly stopped to stay in room number 15 at the Alamo Inn, an L-shaped motel that looks eerily almost identical to the Bates Motel in the movie, where her character is stabbed to death.
Vern Holaday, owner of the motel, said that Leigh in the 1980s and 1990s would always rent room 15, at the motel’s far edge, to walk her dogs in the morning. She used Alamo as a halfway stop on drives from Los Angeles to U.S. 93 en route to her vacation home in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Sometimes motel guests still joke, “Oh yeah, we call that the Bates Motel. Guess who stayed there?” Holaday said.
Then there was the time in 2013 when the cast and crew of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” stayed to shoot the reality TV show in Alamo. Family members were seen around town, including Khloe Kardashian, who was photographed at the Great Basin Foods supermarket.
Susan McGhie, who moved to Alamo in the late 1970s, recalled being a cashier for the old Windmill Ridge lodge when “Batman” TV star Adam West and his wife arrived for a stay during their journey, also to Sun Valley.
“He was really very nice,” McGhie said. “He wore gloves and didn’t like it when people asked for his autograph.”