Dry Damascus divided on alcohol sales

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Beer Taps
Local,Maryland,Kate Jacobson

If you're looking for a beer and a burger on Main Street in Damascus, you're out of luck.

Damascus is the last dry town in Maryland. There are no bars here, no liquor stores, no beer and wine with dinner at sit-down restaurants.

But now the small community faces a ballot proposal that would allow those restaurants to serve beer and wine.

Some residents support the proposal, others are starkly against it, and some don't care too much -- similar to what the ladies in the office of the Damascus United Methodist Church say about the referendum. In a town this small, they'll tell you they know who its most vocal supporters and critics are.

A big critic is one of the church's pastors, Walt Edmonds, who said he believes allowing alcohol sales will inherently change the environment of the small town -- though he acknowledges his congregation is divided on the issue.

"This town has been able to do fine without adding alcohol to the menu," he said.

Across town is the Music Cafe, where owner Randy Anderson has been one of the most vocal residents supporting the change.

"If I eat dinner, I have to dine somewhere else if I want to enjoy an alcoholic beverage," he said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Damascus has been dry since 1884, with voters rejecting alcohol referendums in 1933, 1976, 1984, 1992 and 1996.

Getting the measure on the ballot again was started by residents, including Jay Traverso. He became increasingly frustrated driving to other cities when he and his wife wanted to dine out at a nice restaurant.

Judy Kressig, 51, says alcohol only causes harm -- she knows firsthand, as she was left disabled after she crashed her car into a fence while drunk in the 1980s. She believes if alcohol is sold, it will cause an array of problems.

Others, like Hazel Strahorn, 66, say having a glass of wine or beer at dinner should be allowed at the restaurants that choose to do so.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Maryland has even gotten involved, urging locals to vote down the measure to uphold the city's reputation and diminish unwanted evils.

"Alcohol is associated with nearly every problem in society," said Bunny Galladora, president of the WCTU of Maryland. "It's America's No. 1 drug problem."

But Anderson said beer and wine can bring something else -- people and business. He said he could benefit from potential profits of serving alcoholic beverages.

Other residents agree. Mike Walker, 37, said allowing establishments to serve thirsty patrons might help a variety of locally owned places.

"Alcohol is not for everyone," he said. "But for people who drink, it's nice to have a place to hang out where everybody congregates and get together and talk."

kjacobson@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Kate Jacobson

Montgomery County reporter
The Washington Examiner