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Culleton: Expanding liquor outlets won't squeeze another drop of revenue

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With respect to liquor licenses, the state of Maryland is pushing in one direction, and the city of Baltimore in another.

Both moves will hurt small businesses, and as a byproduct, if we are not careful, Carroll County businesses could be hurt or destroyed.

Carroll's Board of County Commissioners needs to take precautionary action now.

The state views alcoholic beverage sales as an income stream. Hence, there is a proposal to open off-sale liquor licenses to grocery stores and such. The theory is that the more outlets there are, the more sales there will be ... and more revenue.

One can question such logic. My extended family will not increase or decrease purchases based on the number of available outlets. We buy what our habits and desires dictate.

In Baltimore, liquor outlets are not considered desirable in residential neighborhoods. So there is a rezoning proposal that, if implemented, will close down many liquor stores, some of which are chains, but most of which are small family-owned businesses.

It is the state proposal that threatens Carroll County businesses. People who buy wine, beer or liquor have their own favorite outlets.

When I drive up to my favorite outlet, the owner spots my car on the security camera and before I can open my door, Mr. P. (the owner) is rushing out with a jug of my family's favorite California Chianti. I just have to go in and pay for it.

When I stocked up on beer for a family party I asked for assistance in loading my car. The owner and his assistant were insulted.

"You do not have to ask," I was told. "Just unlock the trunk."

When I asked for ice for the party, Mr. P. redirected me to the grocery store. He had ice, but he felt I would get a better price elsewhere.

This kind of business survives on personal relationships and prospers on user-friendly service. Competition from grocery stores will cut into his sales and perhaps shut him down. He will be the poorer and so will my family.

Those who disapprove of alcoholic beverages in general — and we have to respect their views also — will not be happy to see such beverages fighting for shelf space in the grocery aisles.

What can Carroll County government do to protect such small businesses?

For starters, the commissioners can adopt a policy of not allowing additional classes of retailers to expand into alcoholic beverage sales, no matter what changes are made to state law. If the Commissioners lack authority to adopt such a policy or regulation, they can jolly well adopt home rule and gain it.

The failure to adopt home rule in Carroll has never made any sense. If the conservatives who run Carroll County politics don't like the way the liberals in Annapolis manage things, then take some power away from them.

The state's unquenchable appetite for more revenues need not be satisfied by destructive policy changes in liquor regulations, designed to suck more revenue out of counties like Carroll. We can run our own show, thank you very much.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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