Anne Arundel

Maryland law to allow bookstores to sell beer, wine generate controversy

The Old Fox Books mantra is "story, coffee, conversation," but conversations can be had only over coffee and a good book.

Co-owners Janice Holmes and Jinny Amundson of the Maryland Avenue business hope to expand those offerings by selling beer and wine during readings, lectures and other events.


This isn't necessary for the bookstore to survive, but it does expand opportunities for the business, said Holmes, co-owner of Old Fox Books.

"When you add alcohol it adds a special layer, a celebratory taste," she said.


Sen. John Astle, D-Annapolis, has put forth legislation that would give the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board authority to give what is called a "Bookstore Beer and Wine License," according to the legislation.

If the liquor board approves an application, it would allow the bookstore to sell beer and wine during public lectures, readings, discussions or similar bookstore events. Del. Herb McMillan, R-Annapolis, has cross-filed the bill in the House of Delegates.

The license would cost $200 a year and alcohol sales couldn't exceed 17 percent of "average daily receipts" of the business.

People opposed to the bill are making judgments, Astle said.

"No one from the organizations have ever gone to the bookstore and asked these two women what they want to do," Astle said. "I thought it was a good plan."

Holmes and Amundson said they envisioned having monthly or sporadic events in which beer and wine might be sold. One event is called "Nerd Nite," billed as a get-together over drinks while people give short presentations. Think of it like a mini-TED Talk (TED Talks are high-profile lectures, discussions in which people explore music, art, ideas and other topics.)

Access to alcohol would be part of Nerd Nite's requirements, Amundson said.

But what Holmes and Amundson view as expanding opportunities, others view as another business trying to add alcohol to its repertoire. It's no secret that some Annapolis residents are hostile to additional alcohol in the city. City Council meetings and development projects that deal with alcohol issues bring out people frustrated with the number of bars and restaurants staying open late into the night.


Mary Adams, who owns The Annapolis Bookstore on Maryland Avenue, doesn't think the license should be allowed. Old Fox Books should hold private, ticketed events and just serve alcohol, instead of selling it, Adams said.

Approving the liquor licenses would put pressure on the other bookstores to compete and sell alcohol despite opposing it, Adams said.

"It is hard to spit without hitting a place that sells alcohol in this town," Adams said. "It is very shortsighted to take one industry and type of business and allow (alcohol)."

It wasn't clear within Annapolis City Code what the rules are for businesses holding private, ticketed events and serving alcohol. The city does have a special, temporary license for non-profit clubs, but that wouldn't apply to the bookstore.

Amundson and Holmes said they didn't want to join up with nonprofits to strictly hold events featuring alcohol because there were questions about liability.

The bookstore should assume the burden of liability, Amundson said.


Ward 1 alderwoman Elly Tierney opposes the bill as well.

There are zoning issues on where Old Fox Books is located as well as the matter of forcing other bookstores to compete against alcohol when they don't want it, Tierney said.

"I think it is irresponsible for Senator Astle to go in and promise one bookstore they can do this," she said. "Now it will open up a can of worms where everyone wants enabling legislation to apply for a liquor license."

Annapolis resident Stacy Hennessey said she supported Old Fox Books.

If they receive the license, she would hold events at the store.

"We should support our local businesses," Hennessey said. "It is not going to be an excess."


Will it pass?

The bill passed the Senate unanimously Monday, but it has yet to have a hearing in the House of Delegates.

The House hearing is scheduled for April 5, but that leaves four calendar days left in the session to pass the bill. The house version of the bill is still in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. It has not had a hearing.

If there is will within the General Assembly, a bill can be passed quickly — sometimes in the same day.

"We will have to see," Astle said.