When national Prohibition ended in 1933, Pennsylvania lawmakers returned to a license system to regulate the sale of alcohol. The operators of restaurants, stores, hotels, and bars had to apply yearly for a retail license. The two-page form asked for details about the business and the owner, a physical description of the premises, and a “full history” of what went on in the business besides the sale of beer. Applicants had to get the signatures of twelve “reputable qualified voters” of the voting precinct in which the establishment was located. Finally, would-be licensees had to post a $1000 bond to guard against future violations of state liquor control laws. That was on top of the license fee itself, $100, which went into the borough’s coffers.

The Selinsgrove Times coverage of the scramble for licenses in 1933.

Despite the paperwork and the expense, local business owners moved quickly. The Selinsgrove Times reported a mini boom in applications in the spring of 1933 and each year thereafter. These applications from the 1930s survive and are stored in the Snyder County Courthouse in Middleburg. They offer a snapshot of the post-Prohibition world in Snyder County and contain interesting details about local businesses.

For example, the application from 1935 featured above, from the Hotel Sterner, shows that the 53-year-old Harvey Sterner could fit 120 people in his dining room. State law required that at least 40 people could be served in businesses with retail licenses, in an attempt to keep legal alcohol out of small, makeshift establishments. The Hotel Sterner, in the building that is now BJ’s Steak & Rib House, also had a six-seat lunch counter. Harvey was apparently a man of few words. His “full history” of the operation was to the point: “Regular hotel business in the Hotel Sterner.”  [see page two of the application below]

After this application was successful, the Hotel Sterner lasted in name only three more years. In 1938, Sterner sold the business to the Lewisburg hotelier William Watkins. Watkins renamed the establishment the Hotel Governor Snyder.

The Hotel Sterner in 1931. Photo from the Charles L. Fasold Flickr collection

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