SALISBURY — Support from the Wicomico County Council could help pass a state law creating a new kind of liquor license that would allow minors in establishments that serve beer, wine and liquor but aren’t restaurants.
If passed, the new license would apply to facilities that serve liquor but do not meet the requirements for a Class B restaurant license that necessitates selling a ratio of food versus alcohol. For establishments that don’t meet the minimum for food sales, there is a Class D tavern license. However, a Class D license doesn’t allow minors on premises.
Wicomico Board of License Commissioners (BLC) Attorney Richard Duval explained that a new, “hybrid” license is under consideration at the state level. If approved the license would allow the sale of beer, wine and liquor as well as permitting minors to visit the establishment. There are a number of conditions, however.
All minors under 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian while on site; all minors under the age of 21 would have to leave the property no later than 9 p.m.
Other conditions to the license include a need for 50 percent of floor space to be devoted to games, though no gambling games would be permitted. Additionally, for a business to qualify for the new license it would have to be funded by at least a $300k capital investment.
The license fee would also be markedly more expensive than traditional costs, coming in at $4,000 compared to $1,320 for a Class B and $2,200 for a Class D.
Duval explained that the pricey license is in expectation of future costs to the BLC.
“It is anticipated there will be heightened enforcement issues,” he told the council.
Some on the council expressed anxiety over the license.
“You’re going to have some fun when 9 p.m. comes,” said Council President Joe Holloway.
Councilmember Bob Culver worried that allowing minors in a facility that sells beer, wine and liquor but doesn’t have to meet the food requirements inherent to a Class B license might be “circumventing” an existing state law banning beer, wine, or liquor sales from within 300ft of a school or church.
Duval explained that there would be no conflict since that law was tailored specifically to protect schools and churches, not to keep all minors distanced from alcohol. He pointed out that there is a similar law on the books for places like bowling alleys that can serve beer and wine and have minors on site. The new law would just add liquor to that list, while also generating stricter conditions that have to be met to get that license.
While any possible change would take place at the state level, it’s one particular business, the Break Time Sports Grill and Pub in Salisbury, serving as a catalyst for the initiative.
Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich toured the facility and told the rest of the council she was impressed by what she saw.
“It was very different than what I expected,” she said.
Currently, Break Time caters to an over 21 clientele, but owner Pat Scott is hoping to expand services to a younger crowd as well. Duval acknowledged that if the law does pass, Scott will be under increased pressure to provide additional internal enforcement.
While there was some hesitation amongst the council to support the formation of a new license, it mostly boiled down to an argument over numbers like the $4,000 fee or $300k required capital investment, which some felt could be considered discriminatory.
“I think we’re starting to muddy the water a little bit,” said Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman.
Prettyman was willing to send a letter of support to Annapolis endorsing the change with the numbers as they stood. The council agreed and a letter will be sent to the state legislature along with a similar correspondence from County Executive Rick Pollitt.