A proposal for a 9,950-square foot liquor store to be located on the second floor of the Columbia Wegmans and run by a third party will come before the Howard County Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board on May 1.
The man who is planning on running the store, Ralph Michael Smith, announced his plans for the package store in a detailed post on the “I Want The Columbia, MD. Wegmans” Facebook page on April 22.
In an interview with Patch, Smith said, "What we're trying to do is create an opportunity for consumers to broaden their horizons in the types of wines, craft beers and liquors they've become accustomed to drinking."
Jo Natale, media relations director for Wegmans, confirmed the space on the second floor in the store has been leased by Smith. Smith said he signed a one-year lease with Wegmans that is contingent on the proposal being approved by the liquor board.
Smith, 64, is a labor attorney who has advised Wegmans in the past. He said he advised Wegmans managers on labor and employment issues when they began their move into the Maryland and D.C. region.
Smith's plan is to sell a large variety of wine, liquor and beer at the store, which will be called "Upstairs Wine, Liquor and Beer."
He wrote in his post on the Facebook page:
It will be different from other liquor stores around here in several ways. First, it will be large – just under 10,000 square feet so I will be able to offer the widest variety of wines, beers, and spirits available anywhere in this area. There will be great wines for under $10, as well as some that cost hundreds a bottle. There will also be craft beers from the very best breweries all over the country, and excellent single malt scotches, limited-release bourbons, and other fine liquors.
If approved, this will be Smith's first liquor store. He said he learned about varieties of beer, wine and liquor through his travels and as a home brewer.
He said he has been brewing his own beer for 20 years and making his own wine for 15. He said he'd like to model the store after Home Depot, offering a wide variety of wine, beer and liquor, but the store will also offer classes and tastings.
In the Facebook post, he asked local residents to support him at the liquor board hearing.
“I expect a lot of opposition from owners of the existing liquor stores in the county who don’t want new competition,” wrote Smith. “They are very organized so I think many of them will show up at the hearing and be very vocal.”
Smith said he's ready for the fight.
"I've been a trial lawyer for 35 years," said Smith. "If they have objections that they want to press, I'm capable of defending whatever challenges they have to my license application."
He also said he's retained counsel who specialize in liquor license applications.
The hearing takes place on May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the George Howard Government Building in Ellicott City.
Smith said he's not sure yet if the liquor store will be ready to open along with Wegmans on June 17. He said if he's granted the liquor license, opponents of the store may file an appeal that could delay any attempts to open.
"If they don't file an appeal, within six to eight weeks I can be open," said Smith.
What do you think of Smith's proposal?