Owner Bill Skomski wanted to streamline his business at Benny’s Pub.
The idea was to sell the off-site retail portion of his Eastern Boulevard business – transferring its license to the new owner – and apply for a new license suitable just for the pub. They are already separated in Skomski’s space at the Center at Antietam Creek.
So, he and the prospective off-sale owner sought approval from the Washington County Board of License Commissioners, also known as the Liquor Commission.
Sounds simple enough, right?
That’s exactly what Skomski’s lawyer said Wednesday morning during the council hearing on the matter.
“I don’t think it’s as complicated as it looks,” attorney Ed Kuczynski said. “It’s really a physical division of the existing business with the recognition that there will be a different (business) … operating off-sales; the existing licensee will continue to manage food sales.”
But at this stage, no decision has been made, the case has been left open until close of business on Tuesday, and a decision is expected within 30 days.
Kuczynski stressed that both businesses are ongoing and the change would not result in any new competition with other liquor store businesses.
But council attorney John Salvatore said it might not be that simple.
He noted that the license has an unusual history – the current license was issued to accommodate a microbrewery on the premises; this brewery, Antietam Brewery, has since moved to another site. And the request is also unusual. And maybe a little confusing.
If approved, the application would transfer off-premises sales to MarieJay LLC, whose director is Jill Marie Shelly of Boonsboro. Her husband David, who accompanied her, runs Castle Liquors in Williamsport. She was also accompanied by dozens of other people who supported the transfer.
Skomski would then operate the pub under a new license, under a different classification.
Who opposed the liquor license project?
But there was some opposition from other liquor store owners who feared the change would set an unwanted precedent, and attorney Lewis Metzner spoke for them.
Metzner noted that a process for dismantling a liquor license did not exist – and if the license was dismantled, the action could “open the floodgates” for future off-sale license purchases, including by a “supermarket”. There is no process in place, he said, to prevent the board from granting such a request.
“There are no limits to what is presented to us here,” he said.
“What I’m here to talk about is not Benny’s Pub,” Metzner added. “It’s to talk about the Next a. For me, it is to legislate in haste.”
Metzner suggested that the board should obtain enabling legislation from the Maryland General Assembly to clarify the procedure of what Skomski and the Shellys wanted to do.
But that would mean next spring at the earliest before a procedure is in place; the General Assembly meets from January to April.
Kuczynski reiterated that the application did not seek to change the existing license, but simply to transfer it and allow the pub to apply for a casting license for the restaurant.
Skomski told the board that if the planned transfer cannot be put in place, they will do whatever is necessary. But if the board rules against the claims, the decision can be appealed to the Circuit Court. Skomski declined to say if he would consider this; Kuczynski said they will wait to see what the board’s decision is.
The board, which includes chairman Jeff Buczkowski, Alan Levin and Rich Newman, agreed to keep the case open for seven days so that anyone else who wanted to comment on the matter could write or email their concerns. Emails can be sent to https://www.wciquorboard.com/contact us.