Smith Island retains ban on the sale of alcohol

County liquor board rejects license request by a shopkeeper

July 29, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

PRINCESS ANNE -- Smith Island, a fishing community known for its pious sobriety since the 1600s, will keep its ban on alcohol sales.

A handful of islanders sat quietly last night as the three-member Somerset County liquor board rejected shopkeeper Stephen Eades' plans for a seven-day tavern license that would have allowed beer and wine to be sold at one of the two small grocery stores that serve 347 residents who live in the isolated villages of Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point.

Responding to overwhelming opposition demonstrated three weeks ago when more than a third of the island's adult residents traveled by boat and bus to the county seat, the board voted 2-1 to deny the license.

Many residents said they feared alcohol sales would forever change the community that has steadfastly banned the sale of liquor for more than 300 years.

"We have had 14 generations on our island," said Elmer Evans. "That's 14 generations without alcohol. I'm just glad this is over, and I hope it never comes up again."

Opponents, organized by the island's Methodist church, signed petitions and sent four dozen letters, urging denial of the license.

Eades and his wife, Theresa Siejack, said they were "disappointed but not devastated."

"This is a beer license; it's not a matter of life and death," Siejack said. "I thought maybe they would grant some sort of compromise."

Eades wants to add a crab deck to his Driftwood Grocery to attract tourists who visit the island. He said beer and wine sales would improve a marginal profit.

"Basically, we have three options -- resubmit the application, appeal to Circuit Court or close the store," Siejack said. "I think we'll start with the first option."

Islanders who have fought previous attempts to allow alcohol sales in Somerset's only dry community said they bear no ill will.

"I don't think people hold anything against [Eades] at all," said Evans. "He's trying to make a living, and we understand that."

Eades, 48, a trucker from Ohio, bought a bed and breakfast on Smith Island about five years ago, then bought the grocery.

He said he has diligently tried to respect the religious beliefs of his devout neighbors, but temperance is bad for business.

"I thought we met the criteria for granting a license," Eades said. "And it certainly isn't going to stop beer drinking on Smith Island. Everybody knows that."

Even opponents acknowledge alcohol is consumed. Beer, wine and liquor are easily brought to Smith by watermen, or on ferries that haul supplies from Crisfield.

But many residents say the island's informal tolerance for alcoholic beverages is preferable to sanctioning sales with a license.

Board Chairman Robert Parks said he was swayed by opponents who worried that more alcohol would cause problems in the unincorporated community. "There's no law enforcement over there and if you need help, it takes 45 minutes or an hour to get a deputy or a trooper there," Parks said. "And it appears to be something that 80 or 90 percent of the people there don't want. If it had been a littler closer in public opinion, maybe we would think differently."

Pub Date: 7/29/99

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