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Damascus gets wet and wild

“It’s not Sodom and Gomorrah,” says one resident as beer sales become legal

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Published on: Thursday, January 10, 2013

By Christa Puccio

DAMASCUS –New York J&P Pizza is not only celebrating its 20th year in business in 2013, but also the restaurant’s newly instated right to apply to obtain a permit to finally sell beer and light wine in a historically dry town.

“Most people have been asking for beer for 20 years, and they realized they voted against it and made it a dry town,” said Tina Kiima, owner of the New York J&P Pizza.

Question C on the local referendum in November 2012 modified the historical statutory prohibition in Montgomery County on the issuance of a license for the sale of alcoholic beverages for any place of business located in Damascus, the 12th election district.  

Now, restaurants are able to obtain a Class H license, which authorizes hotels and restaurants that have bathrooms for both sexes and minimum seating for 30 patrons to sell beer and light wine for consumption on the licensed premises during specified hours.  However, that excludes restaurants with pool tables, billiard tables, shuffleboards, dart boards, video games, pinball machines or other recreational devices.

“The prohibition era was from 1920 to 1933,” said Kathie Durbin, the division chief of licensure, regulation and education for the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control.  “After the prohibition, [Damascus] voted not to have licenses.”

Durbin said once a company applies for a license, a review team with the Department of Liquor Control receives it; then, the company must display a poster stating that the company applied for the license and when the public hearing will be, which has to be at least 30 days after posting the poster.  

Then, at the hearing, the department has a question and answer discussion with the owners of the company to qualify them.  The department in Montgomery County offers free training on Montgomery County rules and regulations to prepare people for the Q&A.  Durbin said J&P Pizza did attend that training course.

“It’s good for business, brings in more money hopefully, so it’s just something new,” said Kiima.  “For Damascus, it’s really something.  I have nothing against it.”

A Damascus resident shopping across the street from J&P Pizza at Weis Market also said she doesn’t have anything against Damascus not being a dry town anymore.  

“I’m for it,” said Linda Richon, 62, who has lived in Damascus for six years.  “I don’t think it’s bad to have a glass of wine with your pizza.  A lot of people think it’s going to turn into Sodom and Gomorrah, but I don’t think it’s a bad idea.”

Another resident argued against the law passing:  “I think it’s a bad idea because the restaurant is right next to the high school,” said James Smith, 34, a Damascus resident.  “There have been lots of cases of teens drinking underage, it’s not a big town and a lot of people walk around here.  I don’t think it’s a good idea for them to sell alcohol.”

J&P Pizza put up a poster on Jan. 7 stating its application for the Class H license is pending.  The hearing will be held on Feb. 7 at 11:30 a.m. in the COB Auditorium at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.  For more information, the Department of Liquor Control for Montgomery County is available at 240-777-1999.

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