For nearly a century, it was illegal to serve alcohol to restaurant diners in Garrett County on Sundays. But after 20 years of local referendum efforts to change that odd situation, voters turned out in higher than average numbers on Nov. 5 and created an even stranger situation.
As a result of the balloting, only one restaurant, the Avilton Inn, can serve drinks to Sunday diners. Oddly enough, the Avilton Inn is in one of the most remote areas of the county, well off the beaten path of the majority of tourists who are traditionally concentrated around the Deep Creek Lake area.
In the district-by-district election, voters said yes to the referendum in only two of the county's 16 voting districts. And, as it turns out, the Avilton Inn is the only qualifying establishment within the boundaries of those two districts.
On Dec. 15, with little fanfare, the Avilton Inn began serving liquor to Sunday diners. About half of 20 early afternoon diners accepted a complimentary glass of champagne from Emmett Williams, the restaurant's owner.
Williams, a product of a teetotal Baptist upbringing, did not campaign for Sunday sales. Now his guests have the choice of ordering alcohol on Sunday.
Asked if he planned to fight another battle for countywide Sunday liquor sales, David Moe, who presides over the Chamber of Commerce, said: "No. What's the point?"
And District 1-A Del. George C. Edwards, who sponsored the referendum along with Sen. John J. Hafer, believes this will be the end of the matter for "a long, long time to come."
Some Garrett Countians were dismayed, disappointed, even outraged by the stubborn refusal of many others to allow drinks with a Sunday meal.
However, they seem to accept this as one of the quirks of living in a conservative county where family values prevail.
And vacationers to this mountainous resort area, for the most part, seem to adjust to the liquor laws. Sure, restaurant owners talk of patrons who angrily leave their establishments when told of the prohibition on Sunday sales. And they hear plenty of guffaws from tourists who grumble about how archaic the place is.
But life goes on; most people realize that trade-offs exist everywhere. The ban hasn't kept thousands and thousands of tourists from returning year after year. Nor has it kept a growing number of city dwellers from buying or building a second home here.
So a burning question still remains: What is all the fuss about?
It's difficult to figure out what was really accomplished or defeated here. And it's difficult to determine why the controversy raised tempers and fired up people so much that it was much hotter than the presidential or congressional races, or any other voting question on the ballot.
After all, alcohol is sold in bars, liquor stores, convenience stores and restaurants all over the county six days a week, and those who want to make sure they have enough on hand on the seventh day are accustomed to "stocking up" on Saturday.
But even after the referendum was overwhelmingly rejected, a lawsuit was filed to keep the Avilton Inn from serving alcohol on Sundays, and another suit challenged the constitutionality of the district-by-district voting.
Both of those efforts were rejected by a circuit court judge.
Another suit, filed by the owners of the Hen House Restaurant in Finzel, is still pending. They claim that voting "irregularities" resulted in the referendum's failure in their district.
Perhaps the balloting reflected a rebellion among some locals to preserve their quality of life and to protect the character of the county.
It's likely that some weren't just voting against the referendum, they were voting against change - change symbolized by fast-food chains, condominiums and traffic congestion.
Maybe this was their way of stopping the commercialism that is creeping into the county.
Meanwhile, those of us who voted in favor of Sunday liquor sales will continue to cherish our quiet, peaceful lives among neighbors with enduring fundamental values.
If we want a glass of wine with our Sunday dinner, we'll just go to the Avilton.
Sherry Lane Frantz is a free-lance writer who lives in McHenry, Md.
Pub Date: 12/22/96