Beer, wine on tap in dry Damascus

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Local,Brian Hughes

High-profile voter referendums on gay marriage and illegal immigration will dominate the Maryland political landscape come November, but in a rural Montgomery County enclave, another ballot issue takes top billing: whether to let beer and wine flow in the dry community.

Residents in the tight-knit town of Damascus will decide this fall whether to allow such drinks, and according to county officials and residents alike, the measure could come down to a handful of ballots among the 8,500 registered voters there.

"There's a historical divide between the people who identify with the religious aspects versus the new residents saying, 'Hey, I live here too,' " said Montgomery County Councilman Craig Rice, D-Germantown, who represents the area but has declined to take a position on the referendum. "It's huge; it's going to shape Damascus' future."

In other words, he said, it's a battle between traditional values and those who say that, now more than ever, the town should focus on economic development.

With passage, restaurants would receive licenses to sell beer and wine, but the law would not allow liquor or mixed drinks. In fact, bar settings would remain prohibited under the law, allowing patrons to drink only if they are seated. Stores could not sell beer and wine.

Even if the town starts serving alcohol, some in Damascus doubted it would dramatically change the community.

"They've been fighting over it since 1970," said Gary Bellison, co-owner of the iconic Tom and Ray's Restaurant on Main Street. "I run a mom and pop business. People will keep coming here either way. I really don't care what they decide."

- Brian Hughes

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