Store owner loses liquor license bid after 2nd attempt

Smith Island officials defend tradition, saying people welcome the ban

May 18, 2000|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

PRINCESS ANNE -- Three centuries of tradition and sobriety withstood another challenge last night as the three-member Somerset County liquor board rejected a plea from a Smith Island shopkeeper who wants to sell beer and wine in the isolated Chesapeake Bay community.

For the second time in less than a year, board members acknowledged widespread opposition to alcohol sales on the island, turning down businessman Steve Eades, who sought a six-day, off-premises license at the Driftwood General Store, a small grocery he bought and refurbished three years ago.

"People come to Smith Island because we're different, because of the peace and quiet," said Eddie Evans, one of five islanders who attended the meeting. "We don't need some kind of bar scene."

Eades, an Ohio native who also owns the Ewelltide Inn, a bed-and-breakfast in the village of Ewell, said alcohol sales would boost profits at the store, one of two serving the island's 350 inhabitants. The license also would be a convenience for the boaters Eades hopes to attract to the 10-slip marina he is building next to the inn.

Eades did not attend last night's meeting and could not be reached for comment.

Opponents take pride in the fact that alcohol has never been sold on Smith Island -- at least openly -- since the 1600s. They say that breaking with tradition and Methodist temperance would be dangerous for the island, which has no police officer.

"We're not against the guy making a dollar," said Elmer Evans. "But it's different from most places. My house is about 800 feet from his store."

Dozens of residents of the island's three villages -- Ewell, Rhodes Point and Tylerton -- made the 12-mile boat trip to Crisfield three weeks ago for a hearing on Eades' license request, matching the turnout for a similar meeting last summer when Eades sought seven-day beer and wine sales at the store.

In recent weeks, more than 200 residents have signed notarized petitions against the license application.

Eades, who offered a compromise last month by requesting a six-day license rather than one allowing Sunday sales, said he has worked hard to avoid offending the religious sensibilities of his neighbors.

But now, he is considering taking the fight to court.

Alcohol is legal in every other part of Somerset County and despite the prohibition on Smith Island, beer and wine are plentiful there and not particularly well hidden.

As Eades has pointed out and opponents concede, it is commonplace for islanders to phone in orders for beer and wine to Crisfield stores. Along with many other items, alcohol is loaded onto ferries ferry boats bound for the island daily.

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