OCEAN CITY — Residents who want to enjoy alcohol while dining out are waging a low-key campaign in the resort to get the proposal on the November ballot.
Supporters of allowing bring-your-own-bottle service at Ocean City restaurants said they are finding success, despite their decision not to solicit signatures in the typical way.
“We’re not going door to door. We’re not here to knock on doors. People are coming to us,” supporter Bill McGinnity said. “We’re going to a book club and getting 20 signatures at a time or a group of friends.”
Resident Jane Custer, who moved to Ocean City in 1987, has been collecting signatures from neighbors and friends. She said people have been civil about the issue, even if they disagree.
“Reasonable people can disagree,” she said. “People are either for it or against it. I do not want the sale of alcohol in this town. I would stand tall for that. But I think this should be on the ballot.”
The BYOB effort has spawned a backlash of opposition on the island, with signs and bumper stickers reading, “Don’t change our town” cropping up. The signs, available at the Ocean City Tabernacle, were provided by an anonymous donor, Tabernacle President Richard Stanislaw said.
The Tabernacle is opposed to the idea of allowing BYOB service on the island. The city was founded by a group of Methodist ministers who established the Ocean City Tabernacle Association, a religious organization that once owned the entire island. The association drafted deed restrictions on island properties. Chief among them: a ban on the sale of alcohol. The deed restrictions also incorporated so-called “blue laws,” such as a ban on Sunday sales, that were in place until as recently as 1986, when voters struck them down by referendum.
Then — as now — the island was split over the issue. A committee called Save our Sundays formed to try to keep stores closed on Sundays. The opponents argued that lifting the ban would lead to more relaxed rules, particularly over alcohol.
The Tabernacle says the island has much to gain financially by maintaining its strict alcohol prohibition.
“I’ve heard from a lot of people, ‘What are they thinking? We have a brand. Why change it? Don’t mess with success,’” Stanislaw said.
Supporters of BYOB objected when they saw some of the signs posted on city property. City Council last week discussed whether the signs violated the city’s ordinance governing campaign signs, which are permitted only 30 days before an election.
“We are taking the position that they are political signs,” Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said. “Temporary political signs can be placed on property 30 days before an election.”
Elected officials are not shy about taking sides over the issue. Mayor Jay Gillian, who owns Boardwalk amusements, has voiced his vehement opposition to BYOB.
Lifelong resident Marian Talese, 75, said changing the rules would be short-sighted. She said she enjoys cocktails but thinks they belong in the home.
“You don’t change the backbone and fiber of a community unless there is a great need that will do good for the whole community,” she said.
She said the BYOB effort is being spearheaded by people who have a financial interest in the outcome.
“They can come in here and alter it and then move to Florida,” she said. “And we’re stuck with what they’ve done.”
Her brother, New York writer Gay Talese, chronicled life growing up in Ocean City with their father in his bestseller “Unto the Sons.” Talese said her father would have been disappointed in the change proposed by restaurant owners.
“My father had vision. He didn’t think about what was good for today. He thought about what was good for his grandchildren,” she said. “My father used to tell the story of his grandfather (in Italy) who would plant olive trees. Olive trees take a long time to grow. In your generation, you will not get the fruits of that tree. He would say, ‘Yes, but my grandchildren will.’”
Talese said that attitude would serve residents well now.
“We are all on borrowed time on the island. We have no right to alter this unique community for people 100 years from now,” she said. “We have a duty to preserve a community that is so unique that there is no other like it. If we change this, we’ll never, ever be able to go back. That’s the weight of this decision. And with this impulsive, selfish gratification, nobody is thinking of the outcome.”
Petitioners have until August to collect at least 747 signatures to get the public question on the ballot for November’s election, the city clerk’s office says.
Contact Michael Miller: