Ocean City —
The controversial saga of Bring Your Own Bottle (BYOB) ended on Tuesday, May 8, at the ballot box. Ocean City voters answered with a resounding "no" to allowing alcohol in certain restaurants.
Voters shot down a referendum 3,137 to 1,425, effectively ending a yearlong push for BYOB in this dry resort.
The measure was defeated in every single ward, coming closest in the Second Ward, home to the city's downtown business district.
Drew Fasy, chairman of the Committee to Preserve Ocean City, said his group was "gratified" with the final vote and "obviously agreed" with the voters.
"This has clearly been a hot button issue in our city ... one that has caused great differences of opinion. We're pleased it's now behind us, and looking forward to continuing to work together with all stakeholders to discuss meaningful ideas and opportunities to enhance our business community," Fasy aid.
Ken Cooper, member of the Committee to Preserve Ocean City, said he was pleased with the outcome.
"We're just ready to move forward. We didn't like the idea of introducing alcohol into the mix. We're a family resort, we're known for that, it's a moniker that we've had. It's taken us 133 years to get to that and we just wanted to preserve that," Cooper said.
Bill McGinnity, owner of Cousin's Restaurant and member of Friends of Shop, Dine and Play in Ocean City, said although the measure he helped advocate was defeated, he was proud of his group's support.
"I think we did an honest campaign and I'm proud of what we did. Taking it to a vote is a good thing. The people decided for the first time in Ocean City for themselves. That in and of itself is a win," McGinnity said.
He said that he wouldn't push another BYOB initiative in the future.
"I've got a family and a business to take care of. I've done my part," McGinnity said. "It really tested the waters. A lot of people said we would be crushed 3 to 1 and we would go down in flames ... I think getting it to the election is huge. I can walk and hold my head high throughout the community. My dad told me at a young age if you believe in something, you fight for it, and I fought for a year and a half and I'm proud of what we've accomplished."
Mayor Jay Gillian read a statement in City Hall council chambers to local and out-of-state members of the media covering the BYOB vote.
"I believe our family tradition has strong support in that town, and BYOB did not follow that tradition. I respect the BYOB proponents for their campaign, and I want to thank our residents and guests for maintaining the Ocean City tradition in the days up to the election," Gillian said.
He said the city's brand is secure for the next generation of restaurants, guests and businesses, thanks to the voter's decision.
"It's a good night for Ocean City. It's time to move on," Gillian said.
The mayor said the BYOB debate was "healthy" and residents educated themselves on the issue.
"People get very passionate when they're into something. Ocean City is a very passionate town," Gillian said.
Proponents hailed BYOB as a panacea for reversing the downward economic trend in Ocean City. Allowing restaurant patrons to bring beer or wine, local eateries would flourish and people would frequent the downtown, they claimed. More people in the downtown mean more shoppers.
Opponents claimed allowing alcohol in public restaurants would tarnish Ocean City's squeaky-clean image as "America's Greatest Family Resort."
The ordinance, which saw a crushing defeat at the polls, would have allowed patrons to bring only wine and malt liquor beverages to qualified retail dining establishments between 2 p.m. and 11 p.m. Qualified retail dining establishments, according to the ordinance, are licensed by the Health Department for the sale of food, employs a wait staff of at least one waiter, has tables with table coverings and whose staff are not confined to a counter.
The ordinance omitted the Boardwalk as a possible location for allowing BYOB.
The Ocean City Tabernacle, the city's oldest religious organization, opposed BYOB when the issue came up in 2011 with lawn signs proclaiming "Don't Change Ocean City."
Ocean City's relationship with alcoholic beverages begins with its founding as a Methodist seaside retreat in 1879. Four Methodist ministers established a camp on what was formerly known as Peck's Beach. Temperance became a practice at the summer camp meetings, where singing hymns, hearing traveling preachers and picnics drew more devout to the tiny island.
In 1881, the Ocean City Association, the town's governing body at the time, passed a series of blue laws that prohibited swimming, riding or businesses from operating on Sundays.
The city passed a law forbidding the sale or manufacturing of alcohol in 1909.
In 1958, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting drinking alcoholic beverages in public places, such as the beach.
It wasn't until 1984 when the city outlawed the consumption of alcohol in restaurants. It's this ordinance the Ocean City Restaurant Association wanted to overturn.
The push for BYOB began in 2011 with the Ocean City Restaurant Association, an organization of local restaurant and eating establishments.
Restaurateurs circulated an ordinance eliminating the 1984 ordinance and permit BYOB. Along with this ordinance, they circulated a petition to place the issue on the November 2011 ballot. The group submitted 583 signatures to the city clerk, who verified the petition and sent it to council, who promptly rejected it.
But the restaurant association reluctantly withdrew the ordinance, since it set limits on the amount of alcohol patrons could bring, to avoid a possible legal challenge.
The BYOB issue remained dormant until February, when supporters began circulating a second ordinance and second petition, calling for a referendum for the May election.
The Committee to Preserve Ocean City was formed to oppose the BYOB initiative. That group received $14,648 in contributions.
Both organizations began an information blitz, holding public meetings and disseminating their individual messages concerning the BYOB ordinance. At times, the rhetoric was contentious, and both groups hammered each other on the effects implementing the ordinance would have.