Cumberland Times-News

December 20, 2013

Liquor board requests Sunday sales referendum

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— MCHENRY — Debbe Owston, administrator to the Garrett County Liquor Control Board, requested that local legislators support a referendum vote for Sunday liquor sales both on and off premises. Numerous establishments have on-premise sales for alcoholic beverages and can sell an alcoholic beverage with a meal on Sunday between 1 and 10 p.m., and the vote would allow other establishments to do the same.

“There are several precincts or election districts that can’t do that and they compete with the other establishments that can,” said Owston during a public prelegislative meeting Thursday evening at Garrett College. “We have had zero complaints about Sunday sales in a restaurant with a meal. This is the first time the liquor board has proposed a referendum vote.”

The vote would be for districts and precincts of a district, according to Owston.

The off-premises sales would allow package stores to sell take-out alcoholic beverages from 1 to 10 p.m.

Jim Laskaris, owner of Deep Creek Beverage; Gary Sisler, owner of Exxon in McHenry; and Richard Stuck, owner of the Exxon in Grantsville, Oakland Oil & Propane, and several other businesses spoke in favor of Sunday sales.

The Sunday sales would increase tax revenue in the state and county, according to Laskaris.

 “I think it will increase our tourism in this area quite a bit,” said Laskaris.

 The cashiers at Exxon counted that 2,417 customers were turned down for Sunday alcohol sales from the beginning of the year until Dec. 15, according to Sisler. If each customer spent $30 it would have yielded a gross revenue of $72,510.

“We turn a lot of people away on Sunday. We are not only losing alcohol sales, we are also losing in-store sales,” said Sisler. “Two years ago the alcohol tax went up 3 percent from 6 to 9 percent and that 3 percent goes to education.”

One package store would yield $27,500 in Sunday alcohol sales that would go toward education, according to Sisler.

Stuck read a letter from his son that stated “the law prohibiting Sunday alcohol sales has a significant unintended negative financial consequence. We need to stop sending our revenues to West Virginia, and our first step is to get Sunday alcohol carry-out placed on the ballot in the next election.”

The Garrett County Chamber of Commerce also supports Sunday sales for alcoholic beverages, noted Nicole Christian, president and CEO of the chamber.

Delegate Wendell Beitzel noted that the Sunday sales for alcoholic beverages needs to come before the voters and the county commission before it could be introduced as legislation.

Package stores in Garrett and Allegany counties are the only stores in the state that don’t have Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages, according to Owston.

In the past, a county-wide referendum vote for Sunday sales was proposed and it didn’t go anywhere and then it was done on district basis a few times, according to Sen. George Edwards.

Also during the meeting, there were two requests for bond bills. Robert Huebner, representing the board of directors of Garrett Cooperative Ministry doing business as Christian Crossings Thrift Shop in Oakland, requested $99,500 to go toward a $1.1-million new facility. Christian Crossings has over $1 million, half of which is cash from operations, and $500,000 from a grant. They are in the process of constructing a 10,200-square-foot building that will replace a building that is more than 100 years old.

“The building that we are in now is inefficient and is not handicapped-accessible,” said Huebner. “We are badly in need of this.”

Christian Crossing Thrift Shop is a volunteer not-for-profit organization that sells donated household items for nominal amounts.

Michael Pellet, president of HART for Animals, requested a $150,000 bond bill for a new shelter adoption center on Bumblebee Road. HART has raised $2.4 million and is working on completing Phase I of the adoption center, which consists of a boarding facility and will be complete in February, according to Pellet. In 2011, HART held its groundbreaking ceremony for the first phase of construction. Phase II, the adoption center wing, will be complete this summer.

The delegation will work with the county commissioners to prioritize the list of legislative requests.

About 20 people were in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.