Board to Discuss Drive-Through Liquor Ban

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 15, 2007

Drive-through liquor stores, long a fixture along Route 301 in Charles County, could face extinction as early as next year under a proposal from Commissioners President Wayne Cooper (D-At Large).

Cooper's plan to ban drive-up windows on liquor stores is scheduled to come up for discussion by the full board of commissioners within the next few weeks, following last night's public hearing on several legislative proposals. If Cooper's four commissioner colleagues agree with the draft resolution, it will be sent to the Maryland General Assembly early next year.

Cooper said he first thought about eliminating drive-up liquor sales windows soon after moving to Charles more than 20 years ago.

"When I first moved here, a lot of our bars were topless and massage parlors were everywhere, and I saw these drive-through liquor stores, and I thought, 'Wow, what kind of county have I moved to?' " Cooper said. "It certainly portrays a negative image of Charles County."

In the past several years, topless bars and massage parlors have come under strict control, while drive-through liquor stores have been allowed to continue operating with relatively few checks. Meanwhile, at least seven counties, including neighboring Calvert and St. Mary's, ban new businesses from operating drive-up liquor windows.

Capt. Michael McGuigan, commander of the special operations division for the Charles County Sheriff's Office, said "common sense" indicates that drive-through liquor service encourages a culture of drinking and driving, though no scientific data on the subject exist.

"It makes sense that people in cars should not have access to liquor while operating their cars, but not everybody is breaking the law," McGuigan said.

Sheriff Rex W. Coffey (D) met with Cooper to discuss the proposal, but he is out of the country until Monday and has not formally endorsed the plan.

Jim Mills, whose family has operated Jimmie's Cut-Rate Liquors on Route 301 in White Plains for the past 44 years, said banning drive-up windows would amount to punishing the masses for the sins of the few. He said he does not believe there is a link between the convenience and drunken driving.

"People who are determined to drink and drive will be more than willing to walk in the store for a single serving, a six-pack or a case," Mills said.

He added that a drive-through window is important for disabled residents, senior citizens and people traveling with small children who need constant supervision. Furthermore, he said, many people who are scared of being robbed feel more comfortable staying in their cars when running errands on poorly lit roads.

Mills said he has considered moving Jimmie's closing time up from 11 to 9 p.m. and making sales only from the drive-through window during the final two hours to reduce the threat of robbery. He said he would not be able to afford to close the store early without the option of window sales, which he estimated account for about 30 percent of the store's revenue.

"The people that stop by for convenience, whether they're buying newspapers and sodas or a six-pack -- will they come in?" he said. "I just don't know."

Cooper said he appreciates that drive-up windows provide a convenience to many law-abiding citizens, but he said that benefit is outweighed by the tacit endorsement of drinking and driving.

"We're telling people not to drink and drive, but we're making it convenient to do so," he said. "If we're against drinking and driving, it's a stand we have to take."

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