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Damascus votes to allow beer, wine

Damascus is about to get wet.

The Montgomery County town, which had banned the sale of alcoholic beverages for as long as anyone can remember, voted Tuesday to permit local restaurants to sell wine and beer.

Four times in the previous 35 years, residents of the unincorporated town of just over 15,000 had voted to keep the place dry. In 1996, the ban was upheld by a few hundred votes. But this year, the vote wasn't close, as 66 percent said yes to alcohol.

Retail sales of alcohol will not be permitted. Damascus residents who want to pick up a six-pack or a bottle of rum will still have to drive to Mount Airy, Germantown or other nearby towns. Diners consuming alcohol will have to remain seated.

Damascus had been one of the few dry towns left in Maryland. The referendum question was put on the ballot by the General Assembly at the behest of the local legislative delegation in response to requests from thirsty constituents.

Supporters of beer and wine sales argued that the measure would be good for economic development, while opponents argued that the bucolic character of the town would be lost.

Kathie Durbin, the county's liquor control chief, said her office is already hearing from Damascus restaurants that are interested in selling wine and beer. She said potential license holders will have to go through an application and hearing process. The first licenses are likely to be issued in January, she said.

Randy Scritchfield, a Damascus resident and business owner who led the 1996 effort to lift the ban, said he expects only a few of the town's roughly dozen restaurants to seek licenses. But he predicted that the freedom to sell beer and wine would improve the dining scene.

"I'm glad it happened because I think it ultimately will help revitalize downtown by attracting restaurants that otherwise would not locate there," he said.


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