Liquor stores want Sunday openings for holidays

May 11, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Members of the Carroll Alcohol Retailers Association told the county liquor board yesterday that not being able to open on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve could mean up to $27,000 in lost revenue for local liquor stores. Association members met with the board to solicit support on four proposed regulations, including legislation that would allow county liquor stores to operate on the Sundays before and after Christmas.

Retailers would like the legislation passed this year because Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve fall on Sundays in 1995. Association members said they want the legislation because they don't want to lose any sales during the holidays.

The retailers also want permission to include liquor, beer and cordials during wine-tasting sessions at their stores. They also seek tighter restrictions on the number of package goods licenses and a ban on stores larger than 10,000 square feet.

Carroll County package liquor stores now may not operate on Sundays. But retailers said Frederick County stores may apply for a "special license" to open on Sundays; Baltimore County stores may operate on the Sundays before and after Christmas; and Howard County stores aren't prohibited from Sunday sales.

"Some stores . . . do as much business on those two days as they would do in a month," said Francis Schmitz, the association president.

"This puts us at a hardship," said Mr. Schmitz, the owner of Mount Airy Liquors, referring to the policies in surrounding counties. "We're just asking to be on a level playing field."

Changes to Sunday blue laws in Carroll must be approved by the General Assembly. The liquor retailers approached the county delegation about introducing such legislation during the 1994 session but were refused because residents hadn't had an opportunity to comment, liquor board members said.

Board members also said the county delegation might favor the change more if the retailers limited it to years when New Year's Eve and Christmas Eve fall on Sunday. As proposed, the measure would allow liquor stores to be open the Sundays before and after Christmas regardless of which days are the holidays.

"Hell will freeze over before I vote for this," said board member John P. Buchheister Jr. "But you will have a better chance just when Sunday is Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve."

The liquor board also said the delegation is not likely to support the expanded tasting license, particularly if the stores include hard liquor. Liquor stores now may sponsor up to 15 wine-tasting sessions a year if they acquire special licenses.

"One ounce [of whiskey] would make me loaded," said board member Romeo Valianti, noting that wine-tasting regulations allow patrons to receive a one-ounce portion.

Association members said they need to give customers the opportunity to taste products that cost up to $20 a bottle. However, they said they were willing to negotiate Sunday openings regarding liquor.

The final two proposals may be adopted by county regulation, board members said.

Current regulations limiting the number of package goods stores were adopted two years ago. They allow one license for every 3,000 people in an election district.

Board members said they agreed with the retailers' contention that limiting licenses would strengthen current stores financially and make them less likely to cut corners and sell to minors.

But such limitations would make the licenses more valuable, which possibly could inflate the resale value of liquor stores and tempt licensees to hold onto licenses longer than they should, said County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr.

The final proposal -- limiting liquor stores to less than 10,000 square feet -- would prevent supermarket-style package goods chains from locating in Carroll County, the retailers said. They noted that a similar type of business, which can undercut its competition with cheaper prices on some products, is becoming popular in Virginia.

"If that type of store moved into Carroll County, my business would be up for sale the day after it was approved," said Michael Ball, owner of Finksburg Liquors. "Then, about a year after, the guy I sold it to would be trying to sell it again. You would have a lot of licenses moving through the system."

Board members did not make any decisions on the proposals.

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