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State Delegate Questions Restrictions for County in Liquor Store

2016-12-06

Proposed legislation would allow privately owned beer and wine stores in the county to be licensed to sell liquor, but problems could arise

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State Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Germantown) said a proposed state bill that would allow privately owned alcohol stores in Montgomery County to sell liquor should not also allow the county to limit the number of liquor licenses issued or have boundary protections for its county-owned liquor stores.

Reznik said those two limitations, which are included in the “agency store” bill being proposed by Del. Charlie Barkley (D-Germantown), would hurt businesses. Barkley said Monday at a public hearing on state bills being considered for the 2017 General Assembly session that he was proposing the bill as a way to meet the underserved demand for liquor in the county.

According to information provided by the Distilled Spirits Council earlier this year to a county working group that examined the county’s Department of Liquor Control (DLC), the county has 0.34 liquor stores per 10,000 adult residents, while the rest of the state had 3.02 stores per 10,000 adults. Barkley cited the statistic Monday in his presentation to his state legislative colleagues about his bill.

The bill as written would allow privately owned stores to become an “agent” of the DLC and sell liquor. Currently, only the DLC’s 25 stores are permitted to sell liquor in the county—part of the county’s monopoly that also includes control of the wholesale distribution of alcohol.

However, the bill would allow the DLC to determine how many so-called “agency stores” can be licensed and also enable the department to determine how close such stores can be located to a county-owned liquor store.

Reznik said that allowing the department to set the number of stores that can be licensed could “create a rush to the courthouse,” with business owners clamoring for licenses before the number is reached. He added that setting a distance requirement could also negatively impact existing beer and wine stores that are near county liquor stores.

“In many of those cases the county store came after the [privately-owned store],” Reznik said. “We’d be telling beer and wine stores that by virtue of your location, you’re out of luck.”

Barkley said he may be open to amendments to his bill to change the limitations on distance and number of licenses issued.

Peter Frank, owner of Talbert’s Ice & Beverage Service in Bethesda, said allowing the DLC to issue licenses for agency stores could cause corruption. He said about 15 years ago agency stores were eliminated after licenses were allegedly given to DLC insiders. A court battle over that process centered on the DLC withholding documents from one bidder for a liquor store.

Frank said he would support liquor licenses for stores, “but not under DLC auspices.”

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