‘Any help is good help’: Md. state lawmakers look to bring relief to Montgomery Co. restaurants

Seibel’s Restaurant and UpTown Bar, owned by Lynn Martins, has been in business since 1939, but it’s shutting down until March.

After watching her business crater due to the Montgomery County, Maryland’s restrictions to curb the coronavirus, Martins said she hopes there is a way to recover.

Members of the Montgomery County delegation to Annapolis hope to help Martins and other business owners like her.

“Our liquor sales are down 90%,” Martins said to the delegation Friday morning. “Let me put that into dollars: On an average month, our liquor sales would be around $40,000,”

Now, she said, she’s lucky if she sees a fraction of that. Some weeks, Martins said she’s fortunate to clear $1,000 in liquor sales.

“And that’s just from very kind customers that go out of their way to get a beverage to carry out,” she said.

State Del. Eric Luedtke said with COVID-19 restrictions that bar indoor dining and limit eating outdoors, “A lot of people just aren’t willing to dine out right now while the pandemic’s going on.”

Luedtke said he’s backing legislation designed to help Montgomery County’s bars and restaurants. His bill would exempt them from paying the county’s alcohol license fees.

“For me, that’s $2,500,” Martins said. “That’s a huge number.”

Luedtke said businesses would be exempted from those fees for the next license year, starting April 1, 2021.

Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson, who joined lawmakers and Martins for Friday morning’s online meeting, said, “The beauty of this proposal is that it doesn’t require significant administration — it actually eliminates the bureaucracy.”

“It provides relief without paperwork … and it will provide a lifeline to businesses that are the lifeblood of local communities,” Friedson said.

Martins said her restaurant sits on the Montgomery County-Howard County line and is at a geographic disadvantage.

“My customers only need to drive four minutes up the road into Howard County where they allow 50% capacity” in their restaurants.

Her biggest fear is that the restaurant will lose loyal customers who may find a new favorite spot just over the county line.

“Any help is good help,” Martins said.

The bill will go before the delegation’s economic subcommittee for further consideration.

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