A ‘Forty’ or Fruit?

Liquor Stores Outnumber Grocery Stores in D.C.

Liquor stores outnumber grocery stores in many cities across the nation, and Washington is no exception. 

More than 200 liquor stores are in the nation’s capital and surrounding areas. However, the number of full-service grocery stores constitutes less than one-fourth of that number. Many grocery stores also sell alcoholic beverages, along with convenience stores, which are 30 percent more prevalent in low-income Zip codes nationally, according to a PolicyLink report, “The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters.”

The easy access of liquor contributes to a major problem in the community—alcoholism. Alcoholic Anonymous has 55, 244 groups in the United States with more than one million members. 

In a census taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 10 percent of the population in Washington has suffered from alcohol abuse, ranking the city sixth in the nation. 

Even though recent studies, such as those published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, have alluded to wine improving health, alcohol consumption contributes to greater health problems. Cirrhosis of the liver, high blood pressure, hypertension and cancer are some of the effects of drinking alcohol on a continual basis. 

“Regular consumption of alcohol destroys your health from the inside out,” says Michelle Gourdine, CEO of Michelle Gourdine and Associates, LLC, a public health consulting firm.  “People who drink alcohol regularly may not notice immediate effects from their drinking, but drinking alcohol is dangerous and endangers health by diseases, domestic violence and motor vehicle accidents, for example.”

Being able to find fruits and vegetables versus a “forty,” or 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor, has a major impact on health. The PolicyLink study noted that adults in neighborhoods with primary access to convenience stores were twice as obese than those living near supermarkets — up to 40 percent compared to 21 percent, respectively.

Residents who have a supermarket in their census tracts are more likely to adhere to dietary guidelines on fruits and vegetables, the study also found. Produce consumption increased by 32 percent among black residents and 11 percent among white residents for every additional supermarket within a census tract.

In Baltimore, a 2000 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University showed that predominantly black, low-income areas had up to eight times as many liquor stores, which sold more 40 and 64-ounce bottles of malt liquor than bars and restaurants.

“There are currently efforts to reduce the number of alcoholic products through liquor density outlet restrictions,” said Patricia Taylor, director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, a national public health advocacy group that helps people with various drug problems.

The government is trying to lower these numbers by placing regulations on the amount of liquor and wine stores can sell, said Cynthia Woodruff-Simms, community resource officer for the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), which regulates the sale, service, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the District of Columbia.

“ABRA has two off-premises retailers’ class licenses: Class A (wine, beer and spirits) and Class B (wine and beer),” Woodruff-Simms said. “A Class B license can sell no more than 15 percent of the total volume of gross receipts on an annual basis. Their primary business and purpose is the sale of a full range of fresh, canned and frozen food items, and the sale of alcoholic beverages is incidental to the primary purpose.

“There is a quota on these two classes of licenses,” she said. “There can be no more than 250 Class A licenses and no more than 300 Class B licenses.”

Even though these regulations have been put in place, liquor stores are more accessible and outnumber stores that sell fresh produce. The large disparity between grocery stores and liquor stores raises the questions: Why is it more convenient to purchase alcoholic beverages than it is to purchase fruits, vegetables and other food items that are healthier? And, what is more important: a forty or fruit?

Sophia Adem is a correspondent for the Howard University News Service.