First hard liquor license approved in Somerset County, 3 more scheduled for public hearing

Posted 11/1/22

PRINCESS ANNE — An established wine store in downtown Princess Anne made history last month after it became the first private business in Somerset County approved to sell hard liquor.

Now …

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First hard liquor license approved in Somerset County, 3 more scheduled for public hearing


PRINCESS ANNE — An established wine store in downtown Princess Anne made history last month after it became the first private business in Somerset County approved to sell hard liquor.

Now three more applicants are waiting in the wings to also be approved, a second store in Princess Anne and two in Crisfield.

It was Mahesh “Junior” Brahmbhatt, however, owner of Junior’s Wines and Stop & Shop, who on being granted a license received a round of applause from supporters following the unanimous vote Oct. 12 by the Board of License Commissioners.

Board Chair Robert Murphey opened the public hearing by acknowledging that this was an historic event. Liquor sales have been exclusively under the purview of the Liquor Control Board — but it will be out of business starting Jan. 1, 2023 and the three dispensaries will be permanently closed.

“Somerset County is getting out of the liquor business,” Mr. Murphey said, “so that means the private sector can pick-up the business and open up stores.”

It was House Bill 671 that abolished the liquor dispensary system and established a seven-day off-sale Class A Beer, Wine and Liquor license which like all alcoholic beverage licenses is managed by the three-member licensing board.

Mr. Brahmbhatt, known by virtually everyone simply as Junior, was the first and so far only applicant.

At the hearing, attorney Kirk Simpkins represented Ganesa Company, the limited liability company managed by Mr. Brahmbhatt. Mr. Simpkins said this is the first private liquor license “anybody knows about.”

He had a letter of support from Scott Tawes, whose accounting firm oversees the books for the dispensaries, and when it came time for testimony from the audience Chairman Murphey asked those in favor of the application to stand up — and the 14 who did represented virtually everyone in the audience.

Carrie Samis, Main Street Princess Anne manager, said “Junior’s is one of our most successful businesses, so we enthusiastically support this.” As for a question about security she said the town received a grant for cameras downtown and one is specifically planned at the corner where his store is located.

Princess Anne Volunteer firefighter Capt. Morgan Pusey said with the fire company across the street “Junior’s always has been a supporter….always helped us when we needed a hand,” adding that a camera at the store watches the fire station “in case we have any issues in front of the firehouse.”

While not speaking for the Somerset County Historical Trust, its chairman, Randy George said, “Junior has been an asset to the community, and very generous to us.”

Board member Van Muir reminded Mr. Brahmbhatt that there would be periodic compliance checks to ensure there are no sales to persons under 21. And unlike the dispensaries, the licensing board has the authority to fine a licensee or suspend a license.

Mr. Brahmbhatt said he’s already posted a sign on the door that no one is admitted if they are not 21, or they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

“We don’t sell any underage stuff,” he said, and while there are sodas available it’s not a place for a young person to go and buy it. “They can go to other stores…where kids can go in,” he said, and he will stay focused on the sale of alcohol.

In addition to beer and wine, he has experience with liquor sales, having a license for it in the 1990s.

Capt. Pusey said that changeover from a convenience store to a wine shop is something he’s noticed and “it’s been a few years in the making.”

“He’s in this business profession alone. It’s not for minors.”

“It’s obvious that you’re an asset to the community,” said licensing board member Frank Lusk, who seconded Mr. Muir’s motion to grant the license.

“OK, Junior, you’re in business,” Mr. Murphey said after the vote, and supporters hugged and shook his hand.

The license fee of $5,000 will be pro-rated from its effective date of May 1. “I know he’s anxious to get started,” Mr. Simpkins said, and will look into purchasing from the county any inventory that it won’t be able to sell before year-end.

Mr. Brahmbhatt will not be enlarging the building but instead has a plan to make changes within the store by relocating product to set liquor in a specific location. He plans to upgrade his cameras and he has a new register yet to be installed. He said selling liquor is an expensive business to start but hopes to have some product by next month.

His store is one block north of the county dispensary, which has been in the same location for many decades.

Since that public hearing three more are now scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16. In Princess Anne, Ayaan Inc., doing business as Thirsty’s at 12020 Somerset Avenue wants to expand its beer and wine sales. In Crisfield, Big Willey’s on South Seventh Street and the Beer N Soda Drive Thru at 4029 Crisfield Highway are the first applicants in the southern end of the county.

The board is also expected take up show-cause hearings for convenience stores whose clerks were charged with sales to a person under 21. Meetings are held in the County Office Complex meeting room in Princess Anne. The full legal notices for the latest Class A license applicants are published in the Crisfield-Somerset County Times.

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