NEW FOR THURSDAY: County To Keep Berlin Liquor Store Open For Now

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BERLIN — Worcester County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) officials confirmed this week that contrary to rumors there are currently no immediate plans to close the county Liquor Mart located in Berlin.

DLC Director Bob Cowger said Wednesday that the fate of the Berlin location will not be decided until after the upcoming tourism season.

“The Berlin store is scheduled to stay open at least through the summer,” he said. “We just want to see what kind of impact the new store is going to have on it before we make any decision.”

Cowger dismissed rumors that the Berlin Liquor Mart would be closing in April due to a new 4,800-square-foot DLC “flagship store” opening off Route 50 eastbound one-quarter mile east of Seahawk Road. County officials have already confirmed that the DLC’s current West Ocean City location will be shutting down to focus resources on the new, much larger store. However, whether the Berlin store would be closed as well was, and, according to Cowger, still is up in the air.

If the Berlin branch was to close now or later, Mayor Gee Williams expressed his town’s concerns to the county last week that critical funding provided by the DLC, which devotes a portion of the proceeds to the towns that host the stores, will be unexpectedly cut.

“We totally agree with efficiency and whatever is the best service for the public and all that,” Williams told the Worcester County Commissioners last week regarding consolidating DLC locations. “But we have to say for many, many years we received over $100,000 … for that to go from $100,000 to nothing is a bit of a cut to swallow.”

Those concerns were duly noted, promised Cowger, and one reason the DLC has decided to wait and weigh how the Berlin location operates this summer before making an ultimate decision.

“Definitely no decision has been made yet. We want to make sure the town of Berlin will maintain its way,” he said.

Back in February, the financial reasons for the shakeup of the local retail liquor scene were explained. The “flagship” store’s rent will cost $17.50 per square foot annually, or $84,000 paid at $7,000 per month. Currently, the 3,200-square-foot facility in West Ocean City and 1,500-square-foot location in Berlin have a combined annual lease cost of $66,418, according to the county. The West Ocean City lease is $45,575 annually and Berlin’s rent costs $20,843.

According to data provided to the County Commissioners at the February meeting, the DLC reports the West Ocean City had a net income of $24,169 and Berlin’s store lost $43,920 for a combined loss of $19,751. According to the projections for the new location and including just the $84,000 rent for the new store on Route 50, the DLC estimates the loss will turn into a $74,696 profit, which is based on an assumption of a 9-percent increase in sales and a 7-percent decrease in store expenses by closing both West Ocean City and Berlin stores.

Those numbers will have to be adjusted with this week’s decision that Berlin will remain open for the time being, however.

The lease for the new facility is set to begin April 5, or “the date the building improvements are substantially complete.” Once operational, the new store will join all other DLC-run retail outlets in the county in a name change. The current moniker of “Liquor Mart” will be abandoned in favor of the softer “Shore Spirits” name and logo. Featuring three martini glasses and a patriotic motif, the new logo is designed to set the DLC apart from its previous Liquor Control Board (LCB) form.

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