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Hagerstown City Council to discuss liquor license seating requirements

July 27, 2013|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown restaurant owners must be able to seat 75 people before they can obtain a liquor license to serve alcohol, but city officials are considering whether that requirement should be lowered to help smaller businesses be more competitive.

Mayor David Gysberts said the Hagerstown City Council is scheduled to discuss the matter during a meeting on Aug. 13.

“I think 75 seats seems a little arbitrary,” Gysberts said. “Anytime we can reduce the barriers to support businesses and increase opportunity, I think that’s a good thing.”

Gysberts said that although 50 seats seemed more reasonable, he believed the Board of License Commissioners for Washington County should make the final decision to determine how low the seating capacity should go.

As it stands, a Class P license, or pouring license, cannot be issued in a permanent building unless the seating capacity is at least 75, according to the revised laws, rules and regulations of the Annotated Code of Maryland and the adaptations of the county liquor board.

A pouring license also requires that food must be available at all times when alcohol is being served. In addition, the annual food sales at the licensed establishment must exceed the annual sales of alcohol. Carryout sales are prohibited.

Robert Everhart, liquor board chairman, said the three-member panel has the authority to change the seating-requirement law, but they haven’t heard anything definitive from the city.

He said the liquor board would be willing to listen to any proposals the city might make.

Earlier this month, Pietro Priola appeared before the liquor board to discuss the seating requirement. He said he wanted to serve beer and wine at his new restaurant and coffee shop at 2 W. Washington St., but said he was concerned that his ability to seat only 31 customers might be an obstacle.

Priola said during a subsequent interview that being able to serve alcohol would help him compete against larger restaurants with liquor licenses.

“It would give us a little edge .... It would increase sales,” he said. “Let’s put it this way — it would help.”

City Downtown Manager Andrew Sargent said that if Gysberts and the council are receptive to reducing the seating requirement, city officials would take the proposal to the liquor board for further discussion.

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