Large liquor stores banned Assembly passes bill to keep such retailers out of Baltimore Co.

April 09, 1997|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

While a statewide bill fell short of banning large liquor stores from opening in Maryland, a Baltimore County senator pushed through a measure in the final minutes of the 1997 General Assembly to keep at least one such operation out of his area.

Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Democrat who also represents the city, said he wanted to ensure that Total Beverage -- a Landover-based company that operates three liquor "superstores" in Northern Virginia -- didn't set up a fourth branch in Baltimore County.

The county has one large liquor store -- the 20,000-square-foot Beltway Fine Wines and Spirits near Towson -- and Della didn't want to see another one open.

He sponsored and won passage of a bill that bars liquor store operators who have licenses in other states from getting a license from the county. The concern was that such large operations are hurting the smaller "mom and pop" size liquor stores, he said.

"There were some community concerns concerns about the smaller liquor stores going out of business," Della said Monday night as his bill was working its way through the Assembly. "It's aimed at Total Beverage."

The legislation does not affect Beltway Fine Wines, which will be "grandfathered" in under Della's legislation. But Total Beverage never can come to the county.

"It's not free enterprise," said Robert Ampula, president and chief operating officer of Total Beverage, in opposition to the legislation. "They're doing this for fear of the alcohol beverage boogie man, I guess. It's basically an anti-business stance."

Della had introduced the bill less than a month before the session ended as a precaution in case the Assembly killed a statewide measure that would have banned all large liquor stores in Maryland.

"The county measure was a fallback, to prevent other [large liquor stores] from coming to the county," said Sen. Michael J. Collins, chairman of the county Senate delegation, which supported Della's bill. "There was concern that the statewide bill might not pass."

The statewide bill passed but was significantly weakened. The Assembly amended the bill to require liquor license applicants who wanted stores that would be 10,000 square feet or more to be approved by the local liquor board and the state comptroller's office. In a hearing, the applicant would have to demonstrate a public need for the operation and prove that it would not adversely affect other liquor businesses near the site.

That would not have prevented Total Beverage from opening in Baltimore County and most jurisdictions in the state. But Della's bill made it impossible for Total Beverage to come to the county.

Just as with the original statewide legislation, some thought Della's bill wasn't fair. But as the clock was ticking Monday night, the full Senate passed the measure 44-1. And then the county's House delegation gave last-minute support for the bill before the full House passed it 114-8.

Baltimore County will join Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City, which ban liquor store owners who have licenses in other states.

For Total Beverage owner Ampula, Della's bill and the statewide legislation mean that he will not seek a liquor license in Maryland.

"I think the consumers of the state of Maryland are the losers in this and from our standpoint there are other green pastures that we're moving onto," Ampula said.

Total Beverage, an operation that carries 500 varieties of beer and 5,000 varieties of wine, tried to open a store in Howard County in December, but the county liquor board rejected its request after smaller stores and a religious group fought the proposal.

Ampula said because of the difficulties he had in Howard County and with the new laws, he doesn't want to go through the trouble of trying to open a store in Maryland.

Pub Date: 4/09/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.