Bethesda 7-Eleven Faces Second Court Challenge Over Right To Sell Beer and Wine

Convenience store won back right to sell beer and wine in December, but opponent files new legal challenge


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The 7-11 in the Glen Echo area of Bethesda

via Google Maps

A Montgomery County board’s December decision to re-issue a license to sell beer and wine at a 7-Eleven in Bethesda has resulted in a second legal challenge by a competing store owner.

Peter Frank, owner of Talbert’s Ice & Beverage Service on River Road, is appealing in Montgomery County Circuit Court the board’s decision to reinstate franchise owner Girma Hailu’s license to sell beer and wine at the 7305 MacArthur Blvd. store, according to a document filed Jan. 4 at the court.

Frank is represented by Steven Wise, an Annapolis attorney and lobbyist who also represents the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, which counts hundreds of state alcohol retailers as its members.

The 7-Eleven saga is a microcosm of what happens when Maryland’s maze of state alcohol laws are involved in a controversial case such as this one.

On one side is mom-and-pop beer and wine stores, in this case represented by Talbert’s, that benefit from a state law preventing chain stores from entering the retail alcohol business—the law is why chain convenience or grocery stores don’t sell alcohol in the state unless a store was grandfathered in before the 1970s law took effect. On the other side is Hailu, who has partitioned his alcohol business from corporate 7-Eleven as a way to sell beer and wine to underserved customers in the Glen Echo neighborhood.

“It’s unfortunate that an independent business owner who runs his own family business is being pursued by a lobbyist and other business owners who don’t want competition,” Scott Rome, Hailu’s attorney, said Monday.

Rome represented Hailu at the December alcohol board hearing during which commissioners voted 4-1 to reinstate Hailu’s license after a county circuit court judge had revoked the license during an initial court challenge requested by Talbert's. The judge asked the board to review its issuance of the license, which resulted in the December hearing.

The board first granted Hailu a license in March and he sold beer and wine at his store for about seven months before being forced to stop by the court’s decision in November. After regaining the license last month, the store again began selling beer and wine, which Rome said is continuing as the latest legal challenge proceeds in court.

At the December alcohol board hearing, Wise, representing Frank, asked the board not to re-issue Hailu’s license, citing Maryland’s chain store law. Wise said at the time that if Hailu were a retailer independent of the 7-Eleven company, he wouldn’t serve the chain’s trademark Slurpee’s and have the company’s sign posted on his business.

Hailu presented a petition signed by about 900 local residents who supported his ability to sell beer and wine at the store. A nearby business owner and a local resident both testified that Glen Echo residents must travel 20 to 30 minutes, including over a one-way bridge, to reach the next closest beer store. A Montgomery County police officer testified that he had never encountered problems resulting from Hailu selling alcohol at the store.

Hailu also noted he keeps revenue from alcohol sales separate from the convenience store revenue under an agreement with 7-Eleven, meaning the corporate chain doesn’t directly benefit from beer and wine sales at the store.

That model may provide a way for other chain stores with local franchise owners to be licensed to sell alcohol in the state, but Wise noted after the December alcohol board hearing that only a court could make a precedent-setting ruling such as that one.

There is no schedule set for the latest court case, according to online court documents.

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