Fort Meade's proposal to open a liquor store on post is sparking protests from Odenton business owners who claim the Army installation is stealing customers away from the community with cheaper, tax-free products.
Business owners, backed by the West County Chamber of Commerce, have written letters to the Maryland congressional delegation and local beverage associations, asking for help in fighting the new store.
"We just think it is totally unfair for the government to be swallowing up the local business people," said William Chewning, who owns several businesses on Route 175 across the main entrance to Fort Meade and has connections to two liquor stores.
Post officials, who are applying for a liquor license from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said the installation needs the money to fund morale programs, especially during military downsizing.
"The way that things are going requires me to utilize those assets and get those dollars here," said Col. Robert G. Morris III.
The garrison commander said many soldiers and their dependants, including his wife, travel to other government installations to buy liquor, even if they are farther away than the eight stores on Route 175 between Odenton and Jessup.
"Why should my soldiers and sailors and airmen and Marines go to [Fort] Dix, Aberdeen, the Naval Academy, [Fort] Belvoir to buy liquor when they ought to be able to do that at Fort Meade?" he asked.
Post officials said plans for the package store have yet to be drawn, but the preferred site is the Towne Centre on MacArthur Road. Only military personnel and their families -- active duty and retired -- would be allowed to shop at the store. There are 295 soldiers in the Fort Meade garrison.
Civilian employees of the government -- several thousand work at Fort Meade -- would not be allowed in the store.
The Post Exchange sells beer and wine, and alcohol is served at two post bars, the Officer's Club and the Four Winds Non-Commissioned Officers Club. Beer is sold at football games and other events and alcohol is served at the golf course club house.
Marcia Hall, executive director of the West Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, said there are enough places around Odenton to buy liquor, and another one on a military installation is not needed.
She also disputed Colonel Morris' claims that soldiers travel to other bases, even ones out of state, to buy their liquor.
"That's a long way to go," she said. "They may go once in a while to stock up, but for your Saturday night party, they still use the local stores."
Mr. Chewning, who rents a liquor store on Route 175 and whose wife owns The Place, a liquor store on Route 170, near Route 175, said he sees people in military uniforms in the establishments all the time.
Mr. Chewning said the business community has fought successfully in the past to keep a liquor store off of Fort Meade. There are 200 liquor stores around Fort Meade in three counties, he said. "We don't see the need for another."
County Council Chairman David G. Boschert, who represents the Fort Meade-Odenton area, said he plans to meet with Colonel Morris to discuss the issue. But he said he is cautious because of the recent boot camp issue, in which residents complained the former garrison commander didn't let residents in on the decision-making process.
"If it is like it was under the boot camp, then why should I bother with a meeting?" Mr. Boschert asked. "They are just going to do what they want to do anyway."
Colonel Morris said the money generated from the liquor store, along with other exchange services, pays for libraries, gymnasiums, craft shops, pools, athletic fields and youth activities on post.
He said Fort Belvoir took in $1.5 million last year from its services, "and they are half the size of Fort Meade."