As Baltimore’s Board of Liquor License Commissioners enters renewal season for more than 1,100 liquor license holders across the city, four local establishments are facing grassroots efforts from neighbors protesting against them.
A historic hall in Hollins Market is said to be letting trash pile up for days, attracting rats. In Mt. Vernon, a cocktail bar is accused of attracting crime and violating an agreement with the community. Some Little Italy residents are irate that the owner of a local seafood restaurant won’t sign a deal with them. A few blocks northeast of there, neighbors say a local liquor store has brought trouble since it opened in 2013, calling its parking lot a “magnet for crime and drug-dealing.”
Residents will have a chance to bring their complaints before the board at a hearing April 27, at which point officials of the liquor board, a state agency, could potentially strip the businesses of the right to sell alcohol. While not unheard of, that outcome isn’t the most likely. The commissioners often recommend the establishments meet with neighbors to address their concerns.
Enter Matt Achhammer, who serves as the liquor board’s community liaison and mediates disputes between business owners and residents. Achhammer’s role, started five years ago, is designed to improve communication between the two parties — and to cut down on the back-and-forth during hearings, which have stretched into the evening hours in previous years.
One of the liquor board’s tools is a memorandum of understanding, or MOU — an increasingly common agreement signed between business owners and community groups. MOUs have become a go-to resource to address resident concerns and have resulted in solutions like limiting operating hours.
But MOUs can also create headaches for liquor license inspectors, who might not have a copy of the MOU handy when they visit the establishment. Some restaurateurs also refuse to sign them outright, such as Mo’s Seafood owner Mohammad Manocheh, according to a petition from neighbors in Little Italy.
Hollins Market’s Lithuanian Hall, which dates to 1917, features a straight-out-of-Vilnius basement bar selling pint cans of beer and shots of traditional viryta, or honey liqueur. But growing piles of trash and “belligerent and raucous patrons” have become a problem for the Hollins Roundhouse Neighborhood Association, according to a letter to the liquor board from group president Laura Dykes. At issue is also what Dykes calls disregard for an MOU in place since 2009, which bars loud music, loitering and disorderly conduct. In one incident last year, neighbors called 911 to report 20 people fighting just outside the hall, according to a petition. Lithuanian Hall did not respond to a request for comment.
The Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association charges that Sangria, a bar at 930 N. Charles St., has flouted the terms of an MOU the two parties signed in 2017. A letter from the group’s president, Jack Danna, reports two shootings in the business’ parking lot and “repeated violations” of the liquor law. An owner for the bar could not be reached.
During a Dec. 15 hearing before the Baltimore liquor board, Sangria was fined $500 for violating its MOU with neighbors in Mt. Vernon. A bar manager told commissioners that he “had no knowledge” the memorandum mandated that the club was supposed to shut down at 1 a.m. on days without sporting events.
Troubles between Mo’s Seafood and its neighbors are nothing new. Little Italy residents protested the renewal of the restaurant’s license last April following a shooting near the establishment. The board recommended Mo’s collaborate with neighbors on an MOU, but after months of negotiations, owner Manocheh rejected the terms set forth by the community, as The Baltimore Banner reported last year. Now, residents have again signed a petition to protest the renewal.
“We certainly would like to work with Mo’s and come to an acceptable agreement,” said Dan Sutherland Weiser, president of the Little Italy Neighborhood Association. “We think we are very close.”
Manocheh could not be reached for comment.
Fayette Liquor Plus
The Washington Hill Community Association is urging the liquor board not to renew the license for Fayette Liquor Plus, which they charge has contributed to a “steady increase in crime, loitering and other nuisance behaviors” in the area for the past 10 years. A petition from the community group said the crime endangers kids in the area who walk in to buy snacks on their way to home or school, as well as elderly residents who live in a nearby senior facility. Last year, a 13-year-old girl was fatally shot in the head while standing in the store’s parking lot.
“We’re a family-owned business,” said a woman who declined to provide her name but identified herself as an employee and niece of owner Ken Singh. She added that the store also sells groceries in an area underserved by such shops. Critics of the liquor store “should focus on societal issues and not shut down small businesses” which is “not going to fix anything,” she said.