Storekeeper reapplies for first liquor license on tiny Smith Island

Opponents aim to keep ban on alcohol sales

April 26, 2000|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

For the second time in less than a year, storekeeper Steve Eades is stirring emotions on Smith Island by asking for a liquor license he says would boost profits and allow him to build an open-air crab deck for tourists.

Opponents, who pride themselves on the remote island community's 300-year ban on alcohol sales, insist that breaking with the past would be a disaster for a community that doesn't have a police officer.

Nearly one-third of 350 inhabitants turned out last summer in Princess Anne, the Somerset County seat, to oppose Eades' application for seven-day beer and wine sales at the Driftwood General Store, a business the Ohio native bought three years ago.

Many residents who have signed statements against the liquor application say they're planning to make the 12-mile ferry ride to a public hearing tonight at Crisfield High School.

"Last time, we had petitions, but we've gotten signatures notarized this time," said Jennifer Dize, who has helped organize opponents. "We don't want to change our way of life. We're not so naive that we think nothing ever changes, but we just don't see anything good coming out of this. I believe we've got 80 to 90 percent of the island behind us."

Eades, whose store in Ewell is one of two groceries operating on the island, says he has worked hard to avoid offending the sensibilities of his neighbors. But the liquor license, an economic boost his business needs, is also a matter of fairness, he believes.

Alcohol is legal elsewhere in Somerset County, and despite the prohibition on Smith Island, beer and wine are plentiful there and not particularly well-hidden, Eades said. Islanders phone in orders for beer and wine daily to Crisfield stores, he said, and the orders are loaded on the ferry boats that haul most of the necessities of life for residents of the island's three communities, Ewell, Tylerton and Rhodes Point.

"There's a lot of talk about tradition and, as you can see any day, tradition is to send it over by boat," Eades said. "I'm not trying to upset anybody's heritage, but it's wide open everywhere else, and we're all a part of the same county."

Eades made a similar argument in July to the three-member county liquor board, which turned him down, 2-1. A court challenge is a possibility if he fails again, he said.

In the meantime, opponents have continued to shop at the Driftwood store, calling off a planned boycott of the business.

"We need the store," said Dize, "but we just don't want everything else that would come with a liquor license."

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