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Liquor store looks to replace mall playground

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Posted on: June 6, 2024

By BODE RAMSAY

More than 300 parents and local residents have signed a petition to try to prevent a Hyattsville liquor store from opening in the Mall at Prince George’s in the spot now occupied by Junior Playland.

The Hyattsville City Council is backing the effort: Councilmembers voted on May 20 to send a letter to the Board of License Commissioners for Prince George’s County opposing the lease sought by Town Center Wine and Spirits.

“We have to band together and let the mall know what is unacceptable in the eyes of the citizens,” Reeda Butler, a member of the Lewisdale Citizens’ Association, said. “Children need a safe place to play and engage with other children.”

Junior Playland, a business with arcade games, play areas and party rooms for children, opened in the mall in November 2023 with a temporary lease that allows mall managers to replace the businesses at any time.

“Every day we have new children coming,” Junior Playland employee Cheryl Carter said.

“We have people coming from Virginia and D.C., and they’re saying [most indoor playgrounds are] closed down,” she noted. “They have nowhere to take their kids.”

The owners of Town Center Wine and Spirits, located on America Boulevard, said they hope to open the new location, called Cheers N Beer, at the mall, where the store can expand and patrons can find plenty of parking.

The space at the mall is 8,900 square feet, compared with 5,500 at the store’s current location.

“There is not a single parking [place] where my patrons can come and park,” Phani Damaraju, one of the liquor store’s owners, said. “My patrons come to get a bottle of wine and get a ticket for $75 and pay $15 for the wine.” Damaraju emphasized that the Playland’s location had empty parking available.

The county’s Board of License Commissioners will hold a public hearing on the liquor license June 25.

City Councilmember Kareem Redmond (Ward 3) agreed with Damaraju’s claims of limited parking at the America Boulevard location, saying the relocation of the liquor store might help ease the traffic problems in that area.
However, opponents said they are concerned a liquor store might cause problems, like loitering and public intoxication, at the mall.

Damaraju said the liquor store’s owners are prepared to prevent any potential issues.

First, Damaraju said the store would not sell single-serving bottles or cans of drinks, which could prevent loitering, public drunkenness and drunken driving. Patrons would be able to buy liquor, beer and wine to consume later.

Second, Damaraju said his vision is for an upscale liquor store that would give residents a shopping experience similar to that of Whole Foods or Wegmans.

To that end, the liquor store would employ its own security –provided by Secured Protective Services– on top of the mall’s to help prevent loitering, according to Damaraju.

Opponents also complained that the mall is close to Northwestern High School. Damaraju countered by saying that the drive from the school to his current liquor store is almost the same distance.

“We have been there [on America Boulevard] for the last nine years,” Damaraju said. “We had no violations whatsoever to underage [patrons] even though there are students from different parts living there.”
Still, critics say Junior Playland is one of the few local options for their children.

“The kids love [Junior Playland],” Carter said. “I’d hate to see it go because the kids need some structure and something to do.”

Junior Playland owner Mon Nguyen said he is looking for a new location in case the commissioners approve the liquor license. However, that could prove difficult because of the venue’s need for a considerably large space with high ceilings.


Bode Ramsay is an undergraduate journalism major at the University of Maryland.

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