It appears likely that voters in Damascus will get to decide this year whether they would like to permit the sale of beer and wine in town.
However, restaurant owners in nearby Mount Airy are concerned that allowing the sale of alcohol in Damascus could take a toll on their own sales.
James DiChiara, owner and executive chef of the Mount Airy Tavern, said that although he can’t put a number on how many customers he might lose, he gets a lot of business from Damascus.
“I’m sure it will [affect my restaurant],” he said. “I can’t say it won’t.”
The measure being considered by the Maryland General Assembly would allow Montgomery County to issue licenses for restaurants to sell beer and light wine in Damascus, which is the last dry town in the state.
The bill received a favorable report from the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee on Monday, and passed unanimously in the House of Delegates on March 15.
Sen. Karen Montgomery, (D-Dist. 14) said she expected the bill to pass the Senate and go to a referendum in November.
The full Senate has not yet scheduled a vote on the legislation.
A similar bill passed the General Assembly and was signed by the governor in 1996, but was defeated in a referendum vote.
If approved this year, the referendum would appear on the ballot in areas that were part of the incorporated limits of Damascus before the town became unincorporated, Montgomery said.
There are 8,590 registered voters in Damascus, according to the Montgomery County Board of Elections.
Several businesses in nearby Mount Airy said they’re likely to lose business if the bill passes.
Without alcohol in Damascus, people are visiting Mount Airy and other nearby places that sell alcohol, said Aaron Neider, general manager of the Mount Airy Inn, which is about 5 miles from Damascus.
Neider said he doesn’t know how many customers he gets from Damascus, but he knows there are some.
Damon Christian, general manager of the Greene Turtle in Mount Airy, said a new law would likely only affect his business if Damascus is allowed to add bars. He wouldn’t expect much competition from more formal, sit-down restaurants, he said.
The bill would still ban alcohol from being served in establishments that have pool tables, video games or other forms of entertainment.
Like Neider, Christian said he didn’t know how many customers he drew from Damascus but he knows they exist.
“We definitely have our fair share,” he said.