Liquor stores brew up a storm over alleged favoritism

February 25, 1997


Staff Writer

Some Hagerstown area liquor stores are removing Budweiser posters, banners and displays to protest what they say is a local beer distributor's support of a new liquor store in the city.

Store owners, charging favoritism on the part of Wantz Distributors of Hagerstown, have pulled store advertising for Budweiser and other Anheuser-Busch products. Wantz is the sole Anheuser-Busch distributor to taverns, restaurants and liquor stores in Washington County.

"It was a slap in the face to the rest of us," John Zombro of Central City Liquors said Monday. "The wholesalers have always remained neutral."


The controversy arose after Eric Riser, a vice president of Wantz Distributors, spoke at a hearing last Wednesday at the Washington County Liquor Board, which heard an application for a liquor license from D&B Corp. of Hagerstown, according to liquor board officials.

D&B is owned by David Lyles and Robert Lyles, Hagerstown developers, according to the application. They plan to open Dave's Liquor Store at 303 N. Mulberry St. Fred's Liquor Store had operated at that location for about 40 years.

Liquor Board Chairman Donald Mellott said wholesale distributors rarely attend hearings.

Mellott said the board is likely to decide in favor of the application Wednesday because there was no opposition from the Mulberry Street neighborhood. He said opposition rising from other liquor stores has no bearing on the case.

David Lyles, contacted by telephone at his Hagerstown office, would not comment.

Steve Shifler of Hub City Liquors called on the Wantz representative to resign. "You don't go making more than 200 enemies just to make one person happy," he said.

Shifler said he took down mirrors, novelty posters and signs advertising Anheuser-Busch products.

"The only thing that's up is a lighted sign that's difficult to take down, but I did turn the light off," he said.

Rich Newman of Potomac Wine and Spirits said the store planned by D&B Corp. is six blocks from his. "I stand to lose business," he said.

The store owners said they stopped short of emptying their coolers and case displays of Anheuser-Busch products because such a move could inconvenience customers.

Zombro said he'd like a letter of apology from the wholesale representative and the Anheuser-Busch corporate office.

Jay Binau of Old Orchard Liquors said he plans to refuse delivery of any new labels being introduced by the beer company.

Roy Bennett, president of the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association, said the protest was not coordinated by the association, and there was no way to determine how many stores were involved.

He said he doubts that the association will take a position on the matter.

Attempts to reach officials at Wantz Distributors were unsuccessful. Telephone calls to the wholesale office were not returned.

Officials at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis could not be reached for comment.

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