Some owners of liquor stores in Prince George's County say a new county law forcing them to close by midnight is hurting business, particularly on weekends, when some merchants say they are losing thousands of dollars in sales nightly.
The law, which took effect June 1, moved the closing time to midnight from 2 a.m. The Maryland legislature passed the measure in an effort to cut the number of fights and disturbances at or near liquor stores late at night.
Police say it is too early to tell whether the number of crimes near liquor stores has fallen. But officers who used to patrol near liquor stores in the early morning hours are now free to answer other calls.
Some shop owners say the earlier closing time is hurting their bottom lines.
Dinesh "Danny" Ohri, who owns Suitland Liquors, said he is losing about $2,000 in sales each weekend.
"We've had a tremendous amount of night traffic, on weekends especially," Ohri said. "I'm getting hurt big time. I'm not able to pay my bills on time anymore."
Ohri's store is about 200 yards from a banquet hall that hosts late-night parties on weekends. He said party guests would come to his store to buy beer, wine, liquor and champagne into the early hours of the morning.
"When it's time to close, they are trying to buy liquor and we can't sell them anymore, so we just shut the door on them," Ohri said. "We cannot fight with the law."
To balance his budget, Ohri said he may have to lay off two workers.
"This is a nickel-and-dime business, and you don't make a lot of money here," he said. "We really struggle for business. They are punishing us by closing at 12 o'clock. This liquor business doesn't have huge profits in it."
Amrik Melhi, owner of Tic Toc Liquors on University Boulevard in Hyattsville, said he is losing about $2,000 a day in sales during the week and as much as $22,000 on Saturdays. He said he has had to lay off five employees.
"I've lost a lot of business -- I'm talking about 25 percent of business gone,'' Melhi said. "People knew for all these years that our place was open late. We had a reputation for being open late and people came from all over, which generated a lot of revenue."
During this year's legislative session, Melhi led a coalition of Prince George's liquor store owners that lobbied against the bill. Merchants wined and dined lawmakers, making seven trips to Annapolis. But the bill sailed through the House, 97-32, and the Senate, 47-0.
"We haven't seen any compelling thing that has impacted anybody's business, and neither did the General Assembly when they passed the law," said James P. Keary, a spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), who supported the legislation.
Keary said residents who want to purchase alcohol should adjust their routines to the new store hours.
"Just like if the grocery store closes at midnight and you need to buy a loaf of bread, you think ahead," Keary said. "To reduce crime in [the] county is much more important."