DAMASCUS -- The vote was close this time, closer than ever, but the northern Montgomery County community that gives no quarter to sellers of alcohol remains dry.
So there will be no Chianti served at the Little Italy Ristorante in the shopping plaza, no bourbon sold in town to spike the holiday eggnog. For the third time in 16 years, voters have rejected a proposal to allow alcohol sales in the 12th Election District, which also includes the community of Woodfield and part of Cedar Grove.
The proposal went down 53 percent to 47 percent in last week's referendum, a margin of 460 votes: 3,966 to 3,506, not including absentee ballots. In 1976, it was swamped 3 to 1; in 1984, it lost by a 3-to-2 margin. Damascus remains one of six areas of Montgomery County where the sale of alcohol is either banned or restricted.
"Very, very close, but no cigar," said Harry Burdette, owner of a Damascus carwash and coin-operated laundry who for years has been at the forefront of the fight to allow alcohol sales. He claims that the farming and commuting town of about 16,000 has suffered economically because of the ban.
"The people in neighboring areas are probably tickled to death," Mr. Burdette said. "They're not going to lose any revenue. They won't lose any customers."
"I'm glad we won," said Maloy Moxley of Damascus, a leader of the opposing camp. "We like to set an example for the young people of our community."
Mr. Burdette and Mr. Moxley agree that the main reason the vote was so close this time is the district's changing demographics. The population has nearly doubled in a decade, with the number of registered voters swelling by a third since 1984. Both men figure that the newcomers were more inclined to change than the older residents.
"I don't know if longtime residents of Damascus changed much," said Mr. Moxley, who has lived in Damascus all of his 66 years.
But he also said that many new residents are people with young children who "are quite concerned about alcohol and its effects" on children.
Referendum opponents claimed that schools in the district have fewer alcohol-related problems than those outside. Mr. Burdette disputes that, saying teen-agers just drive a few miles out of town to buy alcohol.
Mr. Burdette says that supporters probably did not do enough to advertise their position. With contributions from the business community, they spent about $1,800 on fliers and advertisements. Mr. Moxley said his side spent about $1,300.
The Rev. Walter Edmonds, pastor of Damascus United Methodist Church, said that the outcome had little to do with campaign tactics.
"Most people just felt we don't need it," said Mr. Edmonds, whose church is one of 14 in the area. "I just think many of the people would rather not have alcohol immediately available.
"I heard some people say, 'Let's just let our town be unique, keep our family atmosphere,' " Mr. Edmonds said.
All agree on one thing, that the town has probably not seen the end of the issue. Mr. Burdette said that another referendum could come in two years.