With all the alcohol consumed in Ocean City in private homes, in private clubs and at private functions – and as busy as the liquor stores stay at the main entrances to town – it is laughable to pretend ending the ban on public consumption of alcohol on the island somehow serves the true core values of the community.
It is a farce that Ocean City, in any literal sense, is a dry community.
The perception of Ocean City by its residents and its visitors is no joke.
And the vote Tuesday, May 8, on the Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) referendum, will strike at the heart of how this community is perceived.
Voters will decide a cost-benefit analysis.
Does the benefit of allowing patrons to bring their own wine and beer to select restaurants outweigh the cost to the community’s reputation?
In a word, our answer is no.
Proponents of BYOB have done well illustrating the alcohol hypocrisy in this town and can, with some certainty, predict restaurant patrons with are not going to turn this resort into a bacchanalia on summer nights (other than Night in Venice).
What they have not overcome in all their arguments is the damage to the perception of Ocean City as a place with core values so strict that it doesn’t even allow raffles.
Ocean City is known – and marketed – as a throwback. It is a safe, dry hometown and a vacation resort for families who don’t want the drunken spectacle of any MTV-tinged “Jersey Shore” location.
As careful as proponents of BYOB are, they cannot control how the larger media will turn the change to BYOB into one clear, potentially damaging message – that Ocean City threw out a core value of public temperance in exchange for money.
Financial salvation is what proponents of BYOB are using as their rationale to change the town.
Proponents say they need to allow patrons to bring wine and beer to dinner for restaurants to be more competitive with their mainland counterparts, to attract a better class of restaurant to the community, and in turn use the restaurants to help save the business community.
Those arguments have potential, but it would be a years-long process to see results and there are no guarantees.
What makes it all the more unsure is that proponents have not provided an all-encompassing, multifaceted plan to improve the year-round business climate in Ocean City.
It is a field of dreams mantra: if alcohol is allowed, prosperity will follow.
Their argument hinges on alcohol as the savior.
That is the message that would come through as metropolitan newspapers and television stations trumpet the outcome of the vote showing Ocean City tossed aside tradition and values to make a buck.
That would hurt Ocean City, which has more than a century of distinguishing itself from other shore communities and tourist destinations.
Proponents of BYOB can talk all they want about subtle change, but in our media culture people consume vague chunks of information. They won’t see subtlety.
The public’s perception of Ocean City as “America’s Greatest Family Resort” will change forever.
And if ever there is a slippery slope, BYOB is it.
We don’t take it so far that there will be bars on the Boardwalk and keggers on the beach, but we foresee a necessary step a few years down the road.
The prime argument for BYOB is financial, that it will breed better restaurants to make this a destination town for foodies and that in turn will improve the ailing downtown because more people will come for the restaurants and stay to shop and vice versa.
That won’t come overnight.
What will save the restaurants in the short run?
Liquor licenses are expensive because restaurants and bars can make a boatload of money off alcohol sales.
BYOB may expand eateries’ coffers if the new allowance draws in more patrons who need a glass of wine or a beer with dinner. However, it won’t bring with it the profit margin that comes with alcohol sales.
Restaurants make a much higher margin on alcohol sales than on food sales.
If so much of the BYOB argument is economic, it would only make sense the next stage of that argument would also be economic – to allow liquor sales to help those restaurants survive and prosper.
We do not fault the restaurants in Ocean City for wanting BYOB to help themselves and to help the businesses around them, but it will start a trend.
Selling alcohol would further shift the perception of this resort, but the seismic shift will be just allowing BYOB in the first place.
No matter how much alcohol is already consumed here privately, Ocean City would no longer be perceived as a dry town that puts its family reputation first.
The damage will be done.
The collective marketing loss of a unique family atmosphere would greatly outweigh the scattered financial benefits of BYOB.
We also believe the change would hurt the psyche of the community.
Hypocrisy exists here as it does everywhere, but many residents and visitors take pride in how this community tries to set itself apart. That is why many of them are here.
They don’t want the atmosphere to change.
Neither do we.
However, we are just one voice among many.
We are glad the BYOB referendum is on the ballot May 8 in Ocean City because it is something the community as a whole must decide.
We encourage opponents and proponents of BYOB – and the ambivalent voters in between – to come out May 8 and let their voices be heard at the ballot box.
The more voters who take part in deciding this issue, the more weight the outcome will have.
The editorial was written by David Nahan on behalf of the editorial board of the Ocean City Sentinel.