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Why Maryland is keeping the liquor flowing as an 'essential' business during the coronavirus crisis

Montgomery County alcoholic beverage regulators are backing down on locally prohibiting bars and restaurants from delivering mixed drinks and hard liquor.

BETHESDA, Md. — Montgomery County alcohol beverage regulators are backing down on prohibiting bars and restaurants from delivering mixed drinks and hard liquor during the coronavirus crisis.

Maryland's Comptroller Peter Franchot says the county was in violation of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's executive order before the county Alcohol Beverage Advisory Board voted to suspend its prohibition.

Hogan categorizes liquor stores as essential businesses and allows bars and restaurants to keep serving as long as it is carry-out or delivery only.

Franchot said that declaring liquor, beer and wine as essential is not about supporting people's alcohol habits.

Instead, it’s a critical economic decision to help small business that can be carried out with a low risk of spreading Coronavirus.

"They are the heart and soul of the state's economy, and we can't tell them to shut down completely and not give them some kind of opportunity through innovative nimble changes in their business to stay alive," Franchot said.

The Maryland Restaurant Association reports that more than 206,000 people work in the food and beverage industry in the state, with at least 11,300 restaurants in the state.

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The owners of Gringos and Mariachis, who have two locations in Montgomery County, applauded the county Beverage Advisory Board's decision to back off on its prohibition of carry-out and delivery liquor and mixed drink sales.

"About 50% of the phone calls we received for carry-out asked, 'Hey, can we get a margarita with that?" said owner Marc Miranian. "This is great for us, because a lot of our business is margaritas. This will let us bring some of these bartenders back in who haven’t had any work in the past week."

Miranian says business is down nearly 90% and he and his partners have furloughed all but 10 of the two restaurants' 80 employees.

Meanwhile, at Denizens Brewery in Riverdale and Silver Spring, beer delivery is the only lifeline the business has, according to owner Julie Verratti.

"If folks aren’t allowed to bring in some level of revenue right now, you're going to find a bunch of main street businesses like breweries, like bars, like restaurants, who are not going to exist on the other side of this," Verratti said. "That's going to create a situation where you're going to have millions of people needing long-term government assistance, but the entire tax base has been eviscerated. That is not going to work."

Verratti added that, for her personally, responsible alcohol use can take the edge off a stressful situation. 

But the economic relief to restaurant, bar and brewery establishments is the most important reason to keep beer wine and liquor flowing in Maryland through the Coronavirus crisis.

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