Damascus remains last dry community in Montgomery
Residents may support change, but no one has stepped up to lead the fight
Advocates for the sale of beer, wine or liquor in Damascus have yet to organize into a political force.
As others in Montgomery County ponder Sunday sales, restaurant BYOB and carryout beer and wine, Damascus remains the county's last dry town.
To change that, the state legislature would have to pass a bill to allow alcohol sales; then the question would go to a referendum.
State Sen.-elect Karen S. Montgomery (D-Dist. 14) of Brookeville has heard people talk about wanting to be able to order wine or beer in a restaurant, but no one has contacted her about sponsoring a bill.
"If they would like to talk to me about putting in a bill, I would be delighted," she said.
Some deadlines have passed, however, for putting new legislation on next year's calendar, she said.
Montgomery thinks the community should have a meeting to get a sense of how people feel about the issue.
When the question of alcohol sales last came up for a vote in Damascus 14 years ago, it failed by a narrow margin. Randy Scritchfield, who led the effort, said he is too busy to try again.
"There's no sense doing a bill if there's not some sense a fair number of people want it," Montgomery said.
Diana and Jim Mahoney own three Ledo's Pizza franchises, one in Damascus. Alcohol accounts for only about 2 or 3 percent of the sales in their restaurants that offer it.
Diana Mahoney thinks people should be able to order a glass of wine or beer with their meals.
"I don't think anybody's willing to bring up the cause," she said.
The anti-alcohol literature was "pretty ugly" last time around, asserting that serving drinks in restaurant would lead to immorality, she said.
Opponents of beer and wine sales in restaurants were well organized 14 years ago, said longtime resident Linda Judd.
"People who want it can't be complacent," she said.
She would like to see alcohol available in restaurants.
"If people don't want to have it, it's their choice," Judd said. "Don't tell me I can't have it."
Out-of-towners are confused to learn beer and wine are not served in Damascus restaurants, said Ledo's manager Andrew Rose.
So was Yeunt Siuman, owner of Sky Kitchen in the Damascus Centre. She planned to apply for a liquor license when she first opened a restaurant in Damascus 12 years ago.
The restaurant does a brisk carry-out business because customers want a drink with their meals, she said.
Larry Shelley, at the restaurant to pick up a carry-out order, thinks that alcohol sales would bring in some different restaurants.
"When my wife and I want a nice dinner we go to Germantown or Mount Airy," he said.
Jackie Weaver, also picking up a carryout order, said she goes to Germantown every Friday night for dinner.
"I think [alcohol sales] would help the economy," she said.
A character change?
Lifelong Damascus resident Gary Richard did not fight against alcohol sales in 1996, but he would fight the question if it came back for a vote.
"Damascus had a character of its own," he said. "Why should we promote something that's going to change the character of the town?"
Allowing beer and wine sales in restaurants would just open the door to package sales, bars and nightclubs, he said.
"It's a progression of things," Richard said. "It just doesn't stop at one thing.... You'll never, ever be able to convince me it stops with restaurant beer and wine sales."
Damascus could end up like Kensington, he said.
"Kensington put it on the ballot and decided to allow beer and wine in restaurants. One and a half years later, they now have convenience stores and carryouts wanting to sell it."
He likened keeping Damascus alcohol-free to laws outlawing smoking in public.
"Exposure is everything today," Richard said. "The more stuff you have in your environment, you're exposed to it affects the behavior of everybody."
People who oppose alcohol sales in restaurants are living in the past, said lawyer Robert Meier.
"My sense of things is it's an ongoing discussion in a fairly large part of the big community."
Barbara Ippolito of Damascus was picking up a carryout order at Ledo's in Damascus recently.
"I love the restaurants in Damascus and would love if more restaurants came to town," she said.
She thinks the ability to serve alcohol would bring more restaurants to the community.
Richard does not think a lack of alcohol sales prevents nice restaurants from opening in the community.
"Cracker Barrel serves good food without alcohol," he said. "We can't attract good restaurants because we can't attract national chains."
Damascus native Brian King of Sterling, Va., was at Ledo's to pick up pizza for his parents.
"When I was able to come of age and drink, it was easy enough to drive down the road to the Cedar Grove Store or a restaurant," he said.
"It didn't make sense not to have been and wine locally."