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In Damascus, Residents Will Decide Whether To Stay 'Dry'

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A sign in the yard of a supporter of repealing Damascus' alcohol sales prohibition.
Matt Bush
A sign in the yard of a supporter of repealing Damascus' alcohol sales prohibition.

In the third and final part of his series on the referenda facing Montgomery County voters, Maryland reporter Matt Bush looks at the decision voters in Damascus, Md. will make: whether to remain dry. The first part explained Question A, which would encourage more hiring of disabled individuals by the county, and the second in the series addressed Question B, which deals with a law that would change the way the county negotiates with the police union. 

Damascus, Md., tucked away in the upper northern part of Montgomery County, is the only remaining "dry" town in the county — meaning alcohol is not sold anywhere within the town's borders. But all that could change after November if the town's residents vote to repeal the town's decades old anti-liquor stance. 

The business district in Damascus is comprised of just a few blocks. But in those few blocks, there are five national fast food chains.

"(Route) 27 in the morning is a parking lot going all the way to Germantown. At night time, it's a parking lot going back out to I-70," says Jay Taverso, who has lived in Damascus for almost seven years. "The restaurant chains take advantage of it because there is a tremendous volume of traffic going by." 

Traverso, who's behind the effort that got the issue on the ballot, would like to see more than just fast food for those who actually live in Damascus. But without the ability to serve alcohol, Traverso says, upscale restaurants stay away.

"It just seems to me that it would be something very valuable to our town," he says. "There are a lot of locations there that need a little sprucing up. And the only way to do that is too have a little commerce come in."

Gary Richard, who's lived in Damascus for 58 years, wants to keep the town "alcohol free," which he feels is part of the town's character.

"This prohibition that we have doesn't come knocking on your front door and tells you to stop the party in your house, you're under arrest," Richard says. "This is not the same prohibition of the '20's and '30's. You can do what you please in your own home."

What Richard doesn't want to see in Damascus is a family with children seated at a restaurant next to a group that has been eating and drinking heavily.

"Why were you so upset about second-hand smoke in a restaurant? Because it affected your health," Richard says. "The exposure of alcohol in a public eating establishment affects the eventual behavior and thought processes that go through children's minds."

But Traverso says fears of alcohol in Damascus are overblown. If voters approve, he notes, the county will only license restaurants in Damascus to serve beer and wine, for consumption in the restaurant and no take-out.

In 1996, Damascus voters faced the same question, and they voted narrowly to keep Damascus dry.

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