Repeal liquor license limits Gary plan to allow more chain restaurants good for economy

February 13, 1996

ANNE ARUNDEL County is plenty big enough for more than one Ruby Tuesday's, Outback Steakhouse or T.G.I. Fridays. North County, Annapolis, Crofton -- each is a healthy market for moderately priced chain restaurants.

But as it stands now, Glen Burnie residents will never get an Outback steak without driving to Annapolis. Why? Because of an overly restrictive, antiquated county liquor law preventing chain restaurants from holding more than one liquor license.

The law means Outback Steakhouse, which has a location near Annapolis, can't open a second restaurant unless it eliminates alcohol from its menu, a sacrifice few chains except Pizza Hut have been willing to make.

This liquor law is bad for business. The county is losing restaurants that not only provide jobs, but make shopping centers, malls and commercial parks more attractive to other tenants.

For instance, Ruby Tuesday's, located for years at Marley Station in Glen Burnie, wanted to a open second restaurant near Annapolis but couldn't. The Ruby's in Parole exists only because the franchise abandoned its preferred county location and moved within Annapolis city limits; the city sets its own licensing rules.

Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary wants state lawmakers to repeal the law. His proposal, now before the General Assembly, ought to be approved despite opposition from the owners of mom-and-pop restaurants and liquor stores. These small business owners fear repeal will result in unwanted competition from chains, including, eventually, grocery and convenience stores. They fear any expansion of the number of liquor licenses will hurt their bottom line.

No one can tell them it won't. But this is not a zero-sum game. The young families who might be drawn to one of the chain franchises for dinner aren't likely to dine at a roadside bar with their kids if a chain isn't in their area.

Repeal of this law means new businesses, thriving shopping centers, more jobs. And not just restaurant hires. Like magnets, these chains will attract a variety of new businesses to the county's commercial districts. It is a change that benefits the county's overall economic well-being, and it should be approved.

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