SNOW HILL – In spite of an expiring lease and a commitment to get out of the liquor business, county leaders this week voted not to accept an Ocean City businessman’s offer to purchase the inventory of the Gold Coast Mall liquor store.
A motion to accept an offer from Mike Ramadan of GCBW Inc. to purchase the inventory of the county liquor store in the mall with a 10-percent markup failed 3-4 during Tuesday’s meeting of the Worcester County Commissioners. Commissioner Joe Mitrecic, who voted against accepting the proposal, instead suggested the issue be reconsidered at the Oct. 4 meeting.
“I don’t think we’d have done the citizens of the county a service by voting this up or down today,” Mitrecic said.
In an interview Wednesday, Ramadan’s attorney, Mark Cropper, said his client was hopeful the commissioners would approve the offer at their next meeting.
“My client is certainly frustrated and disappointed that the commissioner did not approve the offer to purchase the inventory at yesterday’s meeting,” Cropper said.
County officials agreed in 2015 to begin liquidating the Worcester County Department of Liquor Control in an effort to be out of the business in 2017. While the county is in the process of subletting some of its stores, its lease at the Gold Coast Mall expires Dec. 31. The landlord told officials he planned to lease the store to Ramadan, who runs the adjacent beer and wine store and wants to expand it. Ramadan will be seeking a license to sell liquor at the store from the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) in October.
Knowing that the county has to vacate the store by the end of the year, Ramadan offered to buy the store’s inventory at the county’s cost plus a 10-percent markup. Because he had no interest in the store’s assets, he agreed to spend $300,000 on inventory in spite of the fact that there’s only $152,457-worth of it in the store now.
“We think that’s a good deal,” said Kelly Shannahan, the county’s assistant chief administrative officer.
As part of the agreement, however, the county would provide Ramadan with a letter of support as he goes to the BLC since state law does not allow liquor licenses within 10 blocks of a county liquor store.
Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said he knew of other people interested in the county’s liquor operations.
“Are we supporting this gentleman over them?” he said.
Maureen Howarth, the county’s attorney, said the county didn’t have much control in this situation because the landlord had not renewed the county’s lease. She said that because the county was covering new ground in eliminating the liquor department, she was in constant communication with the state comptroller’s office.
“If someone brings an idea to us we’ll bring it to the comptroller,” she said.
Commissioner Ted Elder asked if there had been any counteroffers.
Staff said there had not been but reminded the commissioners that regardless of how they proceeded the store’s lease ended Dec. 31.
Mitrecic asked whether any other retailers had been offered the inventory at 10 percent over the county’s cost.
“I don’t want to offend this gentleman but I do know there are other stores in the area that would buy inventory at 10 percent over,” he said. “Do we put them at a disadvantage?”
Howarth said the county had issued a request for proposals to identify parties interested in taking over the 16th Street liquor store. She said after that, the county would be seeking proposals for its Pocomoke and Route 50 stores.
“This is a moving target project,” she said.
Commissioner Diana Purnell said a staff committee had been given the task of easing the county out of the liquor business.
“We gave the committee the authority to get rid of this inventory,” she said. “If we start throwing a monkey wrench in, we’re going to end up owning a lot of liquor. If we’ve got a deal, sell it.”
Commissioner Bud Church said like Mitrecic he had received calls from merchants interested in the county’s operations.
“I had a call from a client interested in purchasing everything,” he said. “I’m not sure we should cut off our nose to spite our face.”
Though Mitrecic made a motion to table the offer, he rescinded it and Commissioner Chip Bertino made a motion to accept the offer, which failed with just three votes of support. Mitrecic’s motion to put the offer on the Oct. 4 agenda passed 6-1 with Commissioner Jim Bunting opposed.
In spite of the lack of decision at Tuesday’s meeting, Cropper says Ramadan is still hoping to have the offer approved before the October BLC meeting. He stressed that regardless of the county’s decision, Ramadan was taking over the Gold Coast Mall space.
“The fact remains the landlord for this location has entered into a lease with my client that commences immediately upon the expiration of the county’s lease,” he said. “There is no other entity that can occupy that location.”
He stressed that it would be inappropriate for the county to entertain other offers now that his client’s was public knowledge.
“It would be patently unfair at this time to allow others to submit offers for the same inventory now knowing what my client’s offer is,” he said. “Hopefully the commissioners will give my client’s offer favorable consideration at their next meeting and all parties can move forward as had been anticipated.”