Repeal: Wicomico officials, new sellers celebrate end of Prohibition-era liquor law

By Richard Caines
Posted 7/2/24

SALISBURY — Elected officials and business owners recently celebrated the end of a Prohibition-era liquor law in Wicomico County on the steps of the Government Office Building in downtown …

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already a member? Log in to continue.   Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Repeal: Wicomico officials, new sellers celebrate end of Prohibition-era liquor law


SALISBURY — Elected officials and business owners recently celebrated the end of a Prohibition-era liquor law in Wicomico County on the steps of the Government Office Building in downtown Salisbury.

County Executive Julie Giordano, who called July 1 a “historic” day for the county, joined state Del. Carl Anderton Jr. in thanking those who helped push House Bill 1340 over the finish line.

Gov. Wes Moore signed the bill in May, which now permits current Wicomico County license holders to purchase spirits from state-licensed wholesale spirits distributors rather than the dispensary.

License holders still have the option to purchase directly from the dispensary if they choose.

“The liquor dispensary systems were put into place after the end of Prohibition, and 91 years later, Wicomico County is now the lone county on the Eastern Shore that has not replaced its system with privatized stores,” Giordano said. “While our dispensary system is still in place, we have taken a giant step in the right direction to a more business-friendly county by allowing our bars and restaurants to purchase their spirits from their distributor of choice.”

Alex Scott, an owner of The Brick Room, a downtown Salisbury bar, said the repeal of HB 1340 gives business owners many more options to work with to make their bars and restaurants successful.

“All of us now are going to be able to compete or the distributors are going to be able to compete for our business,” Scott said.

Scott said before the repeal, what types of products they could buy and their prices were set by the county dispensary system. He said there were times when they would ask for something and were told they couldn’t get it.

“Now, that’s not the case,” Scott said. “Now what we order we will get.”

Anderton, the bill’s sponsor, said business owners like Scott can enjoy a free market thanks to the repeal. He said at times he didn’t know if they would be able to push the legislation through, with obstacles including last-minute amendments at the bill hiring, even up to the point of the final vote.
“We have seven people representing this area and we all have different thoughts and opinions, but in the end, we always come together,” Anderton said.

Justin Collis, general manager of the county liquor dispensaries,  told the Salisbury Independent on July 3 that there will be a transition period after the repeal of HB 1340. 

“We’re going to have to see what accounts are large enough to purchase the volume deals from the distributors to be able to get a better price and most of the smaller accounts, the majority of the products that are high-volume products, we buy such large quantities, we’ll be able to provide those to the bars for a lower price than they can buy them on their own,” Collis said. “So, there will be a loss of some revenue. We’re just waiting to see where it all shakes out.”

Collis said initially they weren’t in favor of the repeal, but as things played out, they figured it would be an olive branch to help the local bars and restaurants.

“It would be a way for them to buy products from the distributors that they couldn’t get from the dispensary as cheap, but still buy the high-volume items and the items that we buy in large quantities from the dispensary because they are cheaper than they can purchase them on their own,” Collis said. “So, it was kind of a compromise to help the local businesses.

“We have no idea how this is going to play out but if you know, say 30 or 40 percent of the products are cheaper from the distributor then why not let the bars buy them that way.”

Collis said one of the drawbacks they are seeing after hearing comments from bars and restaurants is that the workload of bar managers or owners has increased three or four times to place the same liquor order.

“Now they are now having to do the research,” Collis said. “Where is the product cheaper? Is it cheaper at the distributor or is it cheaper at the dispensary? So now they have to double-check everything to figure out where to place their orders.”

Giordano in her July 1 speech thanked Anderton for his collaboration and “capitalizing” on relationships he has built over the years in Annapolis. Anderton took office in 2015.

“We drafted this legislation as a team and we worked hard as team,” Giordano said. “And we testified on this bill as a team. And together we get to stand before all of you today and say 91 years was long enough.”

Giordano said when she was first sworn into office, one of her administration’s first missions was to “spearhead” the repeal of the liquor monopoly, but soon realized what a task it would be.

“I want to thank the Greater Salisbury Committee and the Chamber of Commerce for recognizing that monumental task that lay ahead,” Giordano said. “They created a task force that included representation from many community stakeholders. Through months of collaboration, a white paper was presented to me and to our county council, with recommendations as to potentially proceed.”

Giordano said there were many trips to Annapolis to meet and collaborate with the delegation. She said she was also frustrated by last-minute amendments to the bill.

“While our delegates and our senators do a fantastic job in shepherding that local legislation through the House and the Senate, having a county executive is paramount in various situations like this liquor bill,” Giordano said. “We hit road bumps and challenges along the way and at times we were not even sure that it was going to pass, but through perseverance and dedication we made it happen.”

The future of the county executive form of government will be on a referendum question in November after a resolution was passed by Wicomico County Council in June. Voters will be asked to decide if the county government should revert to a council-manager version.

Opponents of HB 1340, including the group “Yes on the Wicomico County Charter Amendment”, said the “hybrid” system will reduce the nearly $1 million annual profit the dispensary generates for the county. They also claim there could be more businesses trying to obtain liquor store licenses.

But Anderson said there is no liquor store expansion, as the law doesn’t allow it. He and Giordano called it “misinformation.”

“This is not a monarchy,” Giordano said. “It would take the county council. It would take the delegation. It takes a whole lot of things. I have a vision, but that doesn’t mean that's what is going to be implemented.”

Reach Managing Editor Richard Caines at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.