Randallstown in Baltimore County has long suffered from a lack of restaurants despite a large middle-class population. County leaders blamed the situation, in part, on lack of liquor licenses. Two years ago, legislation passed raising the number of licenses a restaurant owner could have in the county from three to four. It allowed a fifth for the Liberty Road area in Randallstown.
While the legislation hasn't created a boom in restaurant development, restaurants are considering the county unlike before, officials said. Ruby Tuesday will open a restaurant near a new Home Depot at Brenbrook Plaza, said Kenneth Oliver, a Baltimore County councilman who represents Randallstown
"It was so difficult before to get the more established chain restaurants," said Dena Jackson, executive director of the Liberty Road Business Association. "With the law being passed, it made it a lot easier of a process."
There is still resistance to changes in the liquor laws, particularly from small restaurants that say the competition from chains will put them out of business. Besides continuing opposition in Howard County to wiping out the limits, an effort in Harford County to double the number of licenses allowed from two to four failed this year. In 2001, Harford's law was changed to allow two licenses instead of one.
Some smaller establishments in Anne Arundel County were more open to easing the limits on licenses this year because they couldn't keep up with the need for new restaurants.
"Small restaurants and family restaurants weren't going to be able to keep up with the void," said Chuck Ferrar, president of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association, which represents restaurants, taverns and other establishments. "In the malls, the projects are too big and expensive for the independents. We tried to give balance so the little guy would survive, but the public would be served too."
Joe Barbera, owner of Aida Bistro in Columbia, said Howard County's new laws will enable him to open another location; his restaurant isn't large enough to qualify for two under the old rules. But he said he opposes laws that eliminate any limits on liquor licenses.
"There's a lot more risk in that situation," said Barbera, who is also president of the restaurant association in Howard County.
Diners in Anne Arundel County said recently that they are pretty happy with the dining choices. Michelle Thompson, an Annapolis office manager, said the selection has improved.
"I don't necessarily think we need more franchises," she said.
Paul Bryant, who lives in Deale and works for a septic tank company, said the selection in restaurants is good, but that the lines are often long.
"We sometimes go to the Outback in [Prince George's] County because we can never get in the one here," he said
Economic development officials said there is room for a variety of restaurants.
"We're trying to attract them all," said Aaron Greenfield, president and chief executive of the Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. "The mom-and-pop restaurants, the chains outside of the county. There is room for everyone."