Montgomery County task force pushes for lighter liquor laws -- Gazette.Net


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A task force says one thing is vital for the nightlife to thrive in Montgomery County: looser liquor restrictions.

If restaurants could derive more profit from alcohol sales, they could respond to greater demand for higher quality alcoholic beverages. That’s the opinion of the Nighttime Economy Task Force, which is looking into ways the county can increase nighttime business and social activity, and therefore boost local economies and provide employment in the county.

The task force could recommend that a restaurant’s alcohol sales, now limited by law at 50 percent of profits, be increased to 60 percent, said Henriot St. Gerard, the task force’s vice chair, at the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board on Monday night.

“This is a big one,” said St. Gerard, a Wheaton resident. “If we want to have a vibrant nighttime economy ... [restaurants] have to be able to serve alcohol.”

Whatever the level, the remainder of the profits would come from food sales.

The draft recommendations, which are still under review, also include a request for more police officers to be on hand in busy areas to enforce public safety at night.

Goshen resident Robert Nelson suggested the task force look into more family-friendly activities after sunset, such as ice skating rinks or roller skating.

Improving the nighttime economy in Montgomery County is “not just about bringing in bars,” Nelson said.

The task force’s recommendations for nightlife venues have been focused on liquor laws and public safety.

“[Task force members] don’t want to make alcohol the conversation, but that is the underlying issue,” St. Gerard said.

Poolesville resident Daisha New, a member of the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board, said she would like to see Germantown area restaurants stay open later. Venues such as a jazz supper club could bring in more revenue after dark, she suggested.

“We have some great restaurants in place, but none of them are allowed to stay open late enough,” she said.

The task force also recommended lengthening hours for food trucks and giving developers incentives to build small, affordable performance areas in arts and entertainment districts. Transportation could also be enhanced by adding more taxi stands and expanding the frequency and reach of nighttime transit service, St. Gerard said.

“All of these recommendations will, I think, entice businesses to come here,” he said. “It cannot work if most of the recommendations aren’t in place.”

County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) appointed the 21-member task force in May. Public comments for the task force will be accepted by email via nighttimeeconomy.cex@montgomerycountymd.gov until Oct. 20. The task force will deliver its final recommendations to the county council on Oct. 21.

scarignan@gazette.net