Is there a bodega in St. Mary’s County’s future. Perhaps, or at least something that is “bodega-like.” That’s what has been proposed for a local grocery chain at their original location, McKay’s Foodland on Leonardtown-Hollywood Road.
At Thursday’s St. Mary’s County Alcohol Beverage Board (liquor board) meeting, Thomas McKay, chief operating officer of the McKay’s Food and Drug chain, presented a concept that he said he hopes to bring back to the board next month. He said he was seeking guidance on the idea.
McKay said the Hollywood store was without power for six days after the hurricane in September and all perishables were spoiled. A month before that the attempt to get the store’s liquor license transferred to their Wildewood store was denied by the board. So the Hollywood grocery store was closed and part of the building now has a liquor store and small convenience store and the rest of the store is vacant.
“It is very difficult for independent businesses to survive. Our Hollywood and Wildewood stores have become unprofitable,” McKay said. He said the independents have to bring something to the customer that the chains are unable to provide.
In Maryland, chain grocery stores are prohibited by law from having liquor licenses. But stores in existence before the law was established are grandfathered. The McKay’s Hollywood store has a license in the name of the family matriarch, Marilyn, who attended the Thursday liquor board meeting but did not speak.
McKay said the concept for the Hollywood store would compare with a bodega and would piggyback with the recent trend for people to eat out instead of in their homes. He said now 70 percent of families eat out, a reverse of 20 years ago when 70 percent ate in.
The proposal is for a store that is one-third restaurant, one-third food store providing prepared foods to eat in or carry out, and one third fine wine and craft and imported beer. The alcohol beverage section would be split off from the other two-thirds and continue in Marilyn McKay’s name. The other two-thirds would have Thomas McKay’s wife Laschelle as the licensee and would be called Fresh Express, LLC.
The concept also includes a wine bar for sampling or full glasses and would also include a first for the area: automatic wine dispensers with 28 varieties of wines. He said they would monitor and limit consumption.
McKay said 30 employees lost jobs when the grocery store closed and he anticipates 50 new jobs will be created with the new concept.
Board attorney Joann Wood suggested that McKay have his attorney present a brief on their argument that their grandfathered liquor license would allow then to have a new on and off sale license for the part of the store licensed by Fresh Express, LLC.
Several board members said they personally liked the concept, but Board Chairman Moses Saldana, Jr. also said McKay would have to overcome the state law prohibition of liquor licenses in grocery stores. \McKay countered that the grandfathered license they have was for the entire building.
McKay said they anticipated making a formal request at the next liquor board meeting in April.