County’s Opinion On Private Sector Issue Not Needed

The early work for the obvious next step in the evolution of the local liquor scene appears to be underway.
Attorney Joe Moore, on behalf of an unnamed client, is seeking Berlin and Worcester County’s support for a change in the local liquor laws to allow for Berlin to have a private liquor store. The idea being the town and county need to support the measure before it can be passed at the state level.
While the town’s position may be relevant, the county’s stance is not because of the obvious conflict of interest. The county is in the liquor business through its Department of Liquor Control (DLC), and a private Berlin liquor store will inevitably hurt sales at the county-owned Shore Spirits store on Route 50.
To be consistent with an issue from earlier this year, the county needs to be on the sidelines here and not vocally support or oppose what is a private sector issue.
That’s what happened earlier this year when the DLC pulled its retail store off Route 50 near Route 611 and relocated to the west along the south side of Route 50. Seeing the community need as well as sensing its own livelihood at stake, The Green Room, which neighbored the DLC store for years previously, sought permission from the Board of License Commissioners to expand its physical footprint and upgrade its license to include off-site liquor sales. Initially, the county was going to oppose the request with attorney Sonny Bloxom appearing before the board to state opposition. After public outcry, the county chose to not express an opinion one way or the other and the business was allowed to upgrade and underwent a major expansion.
That’s the same course the county should take with the current plan to allow Berlin beer and wine licenses to sell liquor to-go. There are interested business people in town eagerly wanting to add liquor to their current beer and wine operations. It makes perfect sense because there is a void in Berlin now without a liquor store.
In order for this to happen, the legislature needs to tweak the county’s liquor law, meaning the boundaries need to be amended because currently the Town of Berlin is not permitted a Class D beer, wine and liquor license. There is no reason why an amendment should not be allowed to address that unfair loophole.
Berlin should have its own liquor store and whether that happens should have nothing to do with how a private license being granted will impact the county government’s sales. It’s about fairness. The Board of License Commissioners can determine how many licenses are issued, but certainly there is a need for at least one license to be permitted.
The situation in Berlin is practically the same as occurred in West Ocean City. The DLC closed its store in West Ocean City. The DLC closed its store in Berlin. These moves were made in favor of a new and larger store a couple miles away. A private operator was granted permission to upgrade its license to sell liquor at the store’s former home, which just happened to share a wall with it. The county did not oppose and the board granted a license.
Now, a Berlin private operator wants to sell liquor because a need has been noticed. It’s not in the same location, but it’s close by. The county should not oppose and the board should grant the license after reviewing the case.
The West Ocean City case set the precedent and now the county needs to remain consistent. So long as local opposition is not robust or at least neutral, the legislature will okay the issue as a local courtesy. If local elected officials provide opposition, it will not pass and might not even be introduced. That would not be fair to private business or the citizens of the Town of Berlin.