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Owner of GeGe's Place defends restaurant before liquor board

Benjamin Brown apologized to Sharpsburg residents for any problems

August 18, 2010|By DAN DEARTH

The owner of a Sharpsburg restaurant went before Washington County liquor officials Wednesday to dispute complaints from residents who alleged his business was causing a public nuisance late at night.

Benjamin Brown, owner of GeGe's Place at 208 S. Church St., told the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County, known as the liquor board, that he wanted to apologize to Sharpsburg residents for any problems, but said he believed some people were calling in complaints of fighting, loud noise and public urination because they want the restaurant to fail.

"Sharpsburg is a small town," Brown said. "If you make one person mad, it's a chain reaction ... I apologize to the whole town. I want to be there. I want to be a good citizen."

Charles Mades, liquor board treasurer, said about 95 percent of the complaints were anonymous.

Brown was accompanied by five of his regular customers. They presented what they said were 73 notarized letters from people who stated GeGe's was a well-run establishment.

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Sharpsburg resident Theresa Broad told the liquor board that her three young sons frequent GeGe's to shoot pool.

"I don't think it's detrimental to their well-being," she said. "It's just not an unsafe environment for my children."

Liquor Board Chairman Robert Everhart questioned whether children, particularly those younger than 13, should be allowed to visit the business late at night to play pool.

Everhart said the liquor board recently sent inspectors to GeGe's to monitor the behavior.

Inspector Robert Shoemaker said he visited the business earlier this month and noticed patrons speaking loudly outside while they smoked.

"They were generating a good bit of noise," he said.

Shoemaker said that, shortly before midnight, he noticed about 20 people were drinking alcohol, but no one was eating food.

GeGe's and other Maryland restaurants with pouring licenses must show that food sales make up at least 51 percent of their business. In order to sell more alcohol than food, an establishment is required to obtain a tavern license.

Brown said he told Shoemaker that he was preparing food on the night in question and said he could produce receipts to verify that.

Inspector Richard Koontz testified that he visited GeGe's several times over the last few months.

"I've never seen anyone drinking alcohol or carrying alcohol outside of that place," he said.

Sharpsburg Mayor Hal Spielman said people have complained at Town Council meetings about GeGe's, but said, "I've never heard or seen anything myself."

Brown alleged someone complained to the health department that he was dumping grease outside the restaurant and the complaint drew a surprise inspection from health officials.

"They didn't find anything," he said.

An inspection report provided Wednesday by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed that GeGe's was inspected Aug. 10 and no violations were found.

Brown agreed to monitor the noise more closely and to bar children from playing pool after 9 p.m.

Brown's mother, Margaret Brown, asked whether her son's business was being targeted because he is black.

"Absolutely not," said Everhart, adding liquor licensees of all races have been called before the board to answer allegations of misconduct.

Everhart said Brown could lose his liquor license and be fined $2,500 if the board's three members determine that violations occurred. That penalty, which is the maximum, is rarely imposed, Everhart said.

Liquor board officials said a decision would come in a few weeks.

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