The Clock Ticks on Liquor Outlets

March 24, 1993

Ordinary citizens may be quite powerless to stop dru trafficking, but in Baltimore City they are proving successful in curbing alcohol sales and promotions.

Item: A wide-ranging coalition of city community groups last year was successful in removing most illegal billboards that had been advertising liquor and cigarettes, particularly in poor neighborhoods.

Item: The clock is ticking on inner-city liquor stores masquerading as taverns. Up to 200 such businesses will have until the end of this month either to become legitimate taverns and keep their seven-day licenses or apply for liquor store permits which restrict their hours and do not allow them to be open on Sundays.

Encouraged by these victories, the community coalition is pressing on. On its behest, Baltimore City legislators in Annapolis have introduced no fewer than five bills this season that would tighten existing liquor laws and add new restrictions. The coalition's No. 1 priority is to win passage of a bill that would ban all outdoor advertising of alcohol products, including advertisements on billboards, MTA buses, taxi cabs and sides on buildings.

"We need environments that help our children make safe and healthy choices. We believe that the alcohol industry must be prohibited from targeting our children with their deadly products," the coalition argues in a statement.

We empathize with the coalition's concerns and frustrations. Unlike wealthier areas, the city's poorer neighborhoods are exploited by peddlers of products that are both addictive and hazardous to health. While other vital shops have moved away, liquor outlets remain, often bedecked with garish advertising of special deals and cut-rate prices.

One store at the corner of Edmondson Avenue and Dukeland Street -- no wider than an ordinary rowhouse -- has 36 beer and liquor ads pasted on its facade. "The overriding problem is deterioration of our neighborhoods with a proliferation of undesirable advertising," says Hathaway Ferebee of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

Yet the question is whether this situation warrants government interference and a blanket ban on advertising of certain products or whether it is best dealt with through voluntary restraint by store owners. We think the latter is the preferable course of action. Already, numerous liquor store and tavern proprietors -- responding to coalition pressure -- have cleaned up their fronts by removing advertising deemed objectionable by the community.

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