SNOW HILL – A Pocomoke store will be able to add liquor to its inventory after a lengthy hearing with officials last week.
The Worcester County Board of License Commissioners (BLC) voted last week to approve a request from Marlin Market, located on Route 13 in Pocomoke, for an upgrade in its license to allow the sale of liquor as well as beer and wine. While some board members were initially hesitant to approve the request after hearing opposition from another Pocomoke business, BLC member Marty Pusey spoke in support of the application.
“We cannot consider competition alone in order to deny an application,” she said.
Attorney Hugh Cropper, representing Marlin Market, told the board last week that the store’s owner wanted to add liquor to its inventory in order to meet demand from the public. He said the store, which opened in 2018, had seen its business increase steadily as the population had grown and traffic by the store, which sits near the Virginia line, had increased.
“There’s more than enough business to go around,” he said. “Citizens should have a choice with respect to their alcoholic beverages.”
One of the store’s employees said the majority of the store’s customers, many of whom were travelers passing through on the highway, asked if the market sold liquor.
“Unfortunately we have to turn them away,” she said.
The store’s accountant told the board that its revenue so far in 2020 was 18% higher than it had been during the same months of 2019.
Several area residents spoke in support of the license application, as did Jeremy Mason, city manager of Pocomoke.
“I do believe there’s enough business to go around and Marlin Market would be set on its own geographically,” he said.
The connections of Don’s Seafood, however, argued otherwise. The restaurant, which has a retail liquor store, is also located on Route 113 in Pocomoke. Attorney Joe Moore, representing Don’s Seafood, questioned Marlin Market staff regarding the store’s management and finances and also said Pocomoke’s population declined between 2018 and 2019. Moore pointed out that Mason had testified at another liquor hearing in 2017 that Don’s Seafood adequately met the liquor needs of Pocomoke.
Mason answered that the town had recently seen an increase in new home construction as well as an increase in highway traffic and so he’d changed his mind.
“I think there’s plenty of need to go around,” Mason said.
Moore argued that it was the BLC’s responsibility to consider the effect a new license would have on existing license holders. He also said he didn’t believe it was the board’s job to worry about public need in Virginia.
“It’s our position that it is not the obligation of the Board of License Commissioners for Worcester County to determine whether or not the need of folks in Accomack County Virginia are favored by issuance of a Worcester County license,” Moore said.
Moore also submitted the transcript of the 2017 hearing he’d asked Mason about into evidence. He said the transcript, in which residents testified against a new liquor license in Newtowne Plaza, showed that there was not public need in Pocomoke, which was a small area.
“If chickens drank liquor there’d be a need in that (Marlin Market’s) location,” he said. “There is absolutely nothing between my client’s location and the location they’re suggesting is a need …. My position is this neighborhood has no neighbors in it.”
Cropper, however, said testimony from that hearing was irrelevant because it was three years old and related to a store five miles away. Furthermore, the BLC had disagreed with those who had testified and granted the license in that case anyway.
He stressed that Marlin Market was outside the town of Pocomoke and needed a liquor license to serve its clientele, which came from places like Stockton, Girdletree and Route 12.
“Are you going to consider the rights of those folks and give them a choice, in this time of Coronavirus, decentralize, and give them a choice for another place to go, a more convenient place?” Cropper said. “Or are we just going to say everybody’s got to go to Don’s Seafood and crowd in the 600-square-foot liquor store?”
He added that he did not share Moore’s belief regarding the board’s consideration of public need outside Worcester County. He said the county’s economy benefitted when outsiders spent money here.
“I think we encourage people in Virginia to come here and spend money, create jobs, create economy,” he said.
After listening to the more than two hours of testimony, BLC member Charles Nichols said he was struggling to see why Marlin Market needed liquor.
“Not having liquor certainly hasn’t hurt in my mind,” he said.
When he made a motion to deny the license request based on the fact that the public need was being met, BLC member Marty Pusey said she was opposed. She spoke on behalf of granting the license.
“I think there’s been a change in the population in the last three years,” she said, adding that the southern end of the county had gotten busier as a result of NASA and the traveling public.
BLC Chairman William Esham, referencing Moore’s assertion that the board should consider the needs of Worcester County, asked BLC attorney Tom Coates for guidance. Coates said the board should consider all public need, including that of transients.
“Public need is your overriding decision maker,” Coates said.
Esham asked Nichols if that would change his mind.
“It possibly could,” Nichols said. “I really am scratching my head on this Virginia stuff.”
Esham pointed out that when granting Ocean City licenses, the board was certainly considering non-Worcester County residents when it referenced public need.
Nichols agreed to pull his motion and the board voted 3-0 to grant the license request.