Damascus, Md.’s last dry town, may get a drink

By LIZZY MCLELLAN
Capital News Service

DAMASCUS, Md. – As the last dry town in Maryland, Damascus may be known for its farms and its football team, but not for its nightlife. This could change, however, as a bill passed Thursday in the House of Delegates would allow for sit-down restaurants in this town of about 15,000 to serve wine and beer.

Damascus is the only town in the state that does not allow the sale of alcohol in any way, said Sen. Karen Montgomery, D-Montgomery. House Bill 690, which will now move to the Senate, would allow the handful of restaurants in town to serve wine and beer to customers who are seated, but would not allow for the creation of bars or the sale of hard liquor.

“It’s about time,” said Damascus resident Cindy McKneely as she sat down for lunch at Tom and Ray’s, a local restaurant. While she would prefer that alcohol be fully available in the town, she said restaurants are “better than nothing.”

But not everyone agrees. A similar bill passed in the General Assembly in 1996, but failed by a small margin when residents voted on it in a referendum that fall.

Montgomery said the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Damascus strongly opposes the legislation, however many other residents have come to her “begging me to put the bill in.”

Also in opposition is Mary Bellison, an Urbana resident and owner of Tom and Ray’s Restaurant. As someone who has struggled with alcohol in the past, Bellison said that serving it would cause unnecessary problems for the town.

“There’s no violence, it’s a quiet town,” she said. “Why change a good thing?”

Despite her opposition, Bellison said she is unsure whether Tom and Ray’s will serve alcohol if the bill passes.

Other residents who have advocated for the bill believe that by drawing in more business, alcohol sales will be more beneficial to the town than problematic.

“They feel that if there is some decent dining there … people might actually stay in the home area and spend their money right there in Damascus,” Montgomery said.

There are only a handful of sit-down restaurants in Damascus, including Tom and Ray’s, NY J&P Pizza, Ledo Pizza and The Music Cafe. These establishments would have to meet requirements set by the county liquor board to serve alcohol.

“The reason we don’t have nice restaurants come in is because we don’t have alcohol,” said Dennis Maggi, owner of carry-out restaurant Pasquale’s Deli in Damascus. “I think it would help the economy.”

If the bill passes in the Senate and is signed by the governor, it will be up for a referendum in November.

“I anticipate that there will be some vigorous activity on both sides,” Montgomery said.

(Copyright 2012 by Capital News Service. All Rights Reserved.)