Theologian Jonathan Edwards aptly said, “There are always two sides to every story.” In the case of whether Worcester County should allow carryout drinks to continue to be sold with food purchases at restaurants and bars, there appears to be three sides to consider – support, opposition and indifference.
There are those who adamantly support continuing carryout drinks for the foreseeable future to diversify revenue streams. One restaurateur I spoke with this week said his average carryout order is now 20% higher than it was two years ago because of the ability to add alcohol drinks to the orders. He said it’s more than a “perk,” as I referred to it last week in this space. It’s a huge revenue booster for his operation and should continue because it’s helping recovery efforts.
Other operators – some of whom never offered it in the first place — are fine with seeing carryout drinks go by the wayside. Some of the more veteran business owners cite concerns about the Boardwalk. It has been common to see people walking along the Boardwalk with mixed drinks in plastic cups with lids. In some cases, there is a flouting of the law that says carryout drinks must be sold with carryout food.
Still there are some operators who accept carryout drinks was intended to help struggling restaurants get through the pandemic. As they turn the corner toward normalcy, albeit with workforce troubles, they realize it was a temporary change to their business model that would eventually end no matter the state’s extension through 2023. They are fine with it expiring.
Across the state, it’s been interesting to observe how the individual license boards are handling the July 1 change. With the state of emergency expiring this week, local jurisdictions had to decide whether to go along with the new state law allowing to-go drinks or be more restrictive. Worcester County’s Board of License Commissioners opted last week to do away with the carryout drinks exception on July 1 and pledged to re-evaluate if requests were made by licensees. As of Tuesday, three requests had been made and the board will weigh them July 21. Until then, to-go drinks are no longer allowed in Ocean City and the county. Baltimore City also did away with to-go drinks, pointing to increased crime levels in Fells Point as one motivator. Wicomico County went the other direction, allowing businesses the ability to continue with carryout drinks. Wicomico did impose some more restrictions, however, limiting customers to two drinks per transaction and capping the size of the drink containers at 16 ounces. Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Bill Chambers told WBOC, “everyone would’ve liked unlimited but that’s not realistic. And I think most responsible restauranteurs are very happy with the decision and the regulations that have been adopted.”
It was weird to me Berlin was the chosen location for Maryland to announce the new $25 million Project Restore, which is geared toward providing incentives for small business and commercial developers to revitalize vacant commercial space. The announcement was made after Gov. Larry Hogan toured downtown Berlin and spoke with numerous merchants. The economy is alive and well in Berlin and there is no vacant commercial space currently with the exception of the former Burley Tavern, where new lease holders plan to open a new restaurant. In recent years, if a tenant does not make it or chooses to leave Berlin, the space has been typically quickly filled. Among the numerous examples would be The Sterling Tavern, which signed on to replace Fins almost immediately after the Delaware-based restaurant group opted out of Berlin.
During his announcement in Berlin, Hogan said, “ … Berlin is doing a lot better than some of our other smaller towns but one or two empty storefronts in a small community can affect an entire town.” There was a time when this funding announcement would have been meaningful for Berlin, but the town is hot right now and it’s a welcome change from years past.
Staying with the governor, Hogan was all over the region this week, leading me to think about his political future. A popular Republican in a hardline blue state, Hogan’s second term ends next year, allowing him some time to set up a presidential run for 2024 if he chooses.
It seems highly unlikely Hogan will essentially retire from politics or return to private business. It’s noteworthy he purchased a home near Washington, DC recently. Additionally, there was an interesting article in the Washingtonian magazine by Luke Mullins last month discussing Hogan’s political future. All signs point toward a presidential run. Hogan was blunt when asked if he would consider a 2022 run against incumbent Senator Chris Van Hollen. Hogan said it’s unlikely, saying, “I think I could win that race [against Van Hollen] pretty handily. But I just don’t have a desire to be in the Senate, … being a member of the Senate, one of 100 people arguing every day and not getting anything done, doesn’t really appeal to me.”
It would seem a certainty at this point Hogan will seek the GOP’s presidential nomination. He said in the article, “Nobody thought I had any chance whatsoever [to be governor], but I really believed that somebody needed to do something about where we were. So I’m not saying running for President would be a walk in the park, but it certainly is not as far-fetched as me getting elected twice in Maryland as governor.”