OCEAN CITY — The relocation of a county-owned liquor outlet from its current location has prompted a neighboring business to seek an upgraded liquor license and an expansion into the vacant space.
While the owners of the Green Room, David and Sara Hambury, will go before the Board of License Commissions next Thursday seeking the license upgrade, the DLC is opposing the application on the grounds that there is no need in the community for another source of liquor and that adding one would damage profits for nearby private- and public-owned locations.
The Green Room on Route 50 in West Ocean City currently provides carry-out beer and wine, among other items. For many years, it shared the shopping center with a DLC-operated Liquor Mart, which has been in that location for nearly three decades. This winter the county decided to close that liquor store in favor of opening a new flagship location on Route 50 closer to Berlin.
The loss of that liquor outlet will be devastating to the Green Room, according to their attorney Hugh Cropper, unless they are allowed to upgrade their license so they can also sell liquor and take over the soon-to-be empty store next door.
“If they don’t expand into that space, the space will probably remain vacant. Right now, their beer and wine sales complement the liquor sales next door,” said Cropper. “They complement each other so when the liquor sales leave they’re going to lose business. And if it’s not granted it’s going to put them in a real hardship financially.”
With the DLC moving their outlet west, however, the county has decided to officially oppose the Hamburys’ application at their hearing next week.
“The reason we’re opposing this is because it’s not necessary to have an additional outlet selling alcoholic beverages,” said County Attorney Sonny Bloxom. “The county, even though we’re moving, we’re only moving a couple of miles down the road.”
According to DLC Director Bobby Cowger, the new, much larger flagship location will be “just shy of three miles” away from the store currently adjacent to the Green Room. However, for a motorist to drive from the Green Room to the DLC it’s actually a drive of 4.7 miles because a U-turn from westbound Route 50 is necessary.
Bloxom also noted the proximity of Trader Lee’s liquor store on Route 611, less than a mile from the current DLC store that the Green Room hopes to expand into.
“And also you have Trader Lee’s right there in the area already selling alcoholic beverages so the area is already covered,” he said. “It’s not necessary to expand sales in that area. By doing so, you only cut into everybody else’s profits and the county has an obligation and has made an investment in this new store we’re putting in and we have a right to protect it for the citizens.”
Cropper dismissed the county’s position, arguing that the DLC is more concerned with the Green Room cutting into county profits than with the public need for liquor being met in the area. Despite the flagship store being larger, Cropper contended that a three-mile move left gaps in service that the Green Room is poised to fill. He called attention to the additions the Hamburys would like to make and the extra year-round jobs an expansion to the license and premises would bring. Cropper said the DLC maintains its primary purpose is to preserve jobs and if the Hamburys’ proposal is rejected jobs will most likely be cut.
“They’ll be hiring new people, they really want to enhance the business and create jobs,” he said. “They’ll re-model the whole thing and do something nice for West Ocean City.”
The county simply not wanting to compete with a nearby private business is not grounds to deny the application, concluded Cropper. In his argument, though, Bloxom emphasized that the DLC believes its new government-operated store completely meets the needs of the area and an upgraded Green Room with liquor would be excessive.
“Do you want to have liquor stores every mile? That’s going to be our question to the licensing board,” said Bloxom.
The Green Room believes that argument is inconsistent, pointing to Ocean Pines that has two liquor selling stores within a couple miles of each other.
Both attorneys will argue their case next Thursday, April 18 in front of the Board of License Commissioners. Cropper has written a letter to County Commission President Bud Church asking he attend the hearing.