Baltimore City's liquor trade is on the threshold of a major change. Under an emergency bill recently signed into law by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, all liquor stores masquerading as taverns will have to adjust their legal status by next March.
This crackdown will affect 150 to 200 of the 625 establishments with 7-day tavern licenses, mostly in inner-city neighborhoods.
As the middle class has moved to the suburbs and fear of crime has diminished night-time trade, many once-thriving corner taverns have abolished their bars and seating areas altogether but continue operating as package-goods stores from behind bullet-proof partitions.
A tavern license has given them substantial advantages over their more-restricted rivals. They have been able to stay open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week.
Owners of nonconforming taverns will now either have to return to bona fide bar operations or apply for a liquor store license that would prohibit Sunday sales and limit their daily hours to between 9 a.m. and midnight, says Aaron L. Stansbury, the liquor board executive secretary.
This reform "will be excellent for neighborhoods," says Kevin M. Jordan, a community organizer with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. As a member of the city-wide Liquor Coalition for Better Laws and Regulations, that group has been fighting for years to root out unregulated liquor establishments, which tend to intensify loitering, public drunkenness, trash accumulation and other activities that impinge on the peace and well-being of communities.
With this victory under its belt, the city-wide coalition is now embarking on a campaign to persuade liquor outlet owners not to sell miniatures or single beer cans, which tend to encourage littering. The coalition also wants to attack the visual pollution of boarded up tavern windows, which are plastered with garish advertising signs promoting bargains.
"We are telling operators, 'We want you to stop some of the things that are harmful to our communities'," Mr. Jordan said.
We welcome the new law as a measure that promises to return some order to a segment of the liquor trade that has been allowed to operate for too long without adequate regulation. Early indications suggest that many of those now operating a rogue package-goods store under tavern licenses will seek to convert them to liquor store permits. Such conversions ought to make a real difference in many inner-city neighborhoods.