Ward 4 Seeks to Extend Ban on Single Sale Liquor Purchases

Measure Curbs Litter and Loitering, Supporters Say

Thomas Black vividly remembers the setting outside of Morris Miller Liquors just three years ago. “For a good 20 years, we used to have men out as early as 7 a.m. hanging out on the platform behind Morris Miller,” he recalled. “There was littering, public drinking, prostitution, public urination and a lot of broken glass on the ground.”

But Black insists that since the Single Sales Moratorium went into effect in 2004, Ward 4 has seen an 80 percent decrease in public nuisance violations.

“I monitor Georgia Avenue daily, and today we don’t have the loitering or the littering,” said Black, who is president of the Coalition 4 Public Safety and president and founder of the Voice of Upper Georgia Avenue.

The Single Sales Moratorium prohibits Class A and Class B liquor license holders from being able to break down a manufacturer’s package and sell alcoholic beverages as singles. In effect, Ward 4’s moratorium place a ban on the single sale of any alcoholic beverage under 70 ounces. This affects 16 to 24-ounce cans and 22 to 40-ounce bottles of ale or malt liquor available for individual purchase by law.

The legislation for Ward 4’s Single Sales Moratorium was introduced by Mayor Adrian Fenty in September of 2004 when he was still a council member representing Ward 4. Although the amendment was passed in 2004, it received a great deal of resistance from liquor store owners, which resulted in the amendment being vetted in federal court and a three-year delay in the law being implemented.

But in the meantime, Black, accompanied by members of Ward 4’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission and concerned residents, took matters into their own hands and set out to get liquor store owners in Ward 4 to agree to the terms of the moratorium even before the law was passed.

“I went to every liquor establishment in Ward 4 communicating what needed to be done so we could make this a voluntary agreement until the law was passed,” Black explained. “We received voluntary agreements from liquor stores on Georgia Avenue from Eastern Avenue to just a little passed Walter Reed. Morris Miller was the first to sign the agreement.”

According to Black, by the time the law was enacted in August of 2007, the upper quarters of Ward 4 had already established a moratorium by way of an agreement. The law was passed for a four-year term, which was effective the day it was introduced in 2004. As such, the moratorium is set to expire in September, just a year after the law was actually implemented.

But Fenty’s successor, council member Muriel Bowser, has made extending the ban on single sale alcoholic beverages a priority. She recently introduced legislation for an extension at the hearing on the “Present Need and Appropriateness of the Targeted Ward 4 Moratorium Zone,” which took place on Feb. 8. This year, Wards 7 and 8 are following suit and introducing legislation to impose a ban on single sale alcoholic beverages as well.

For the most part, Ward 4 liquor store owners have received the Single Sales Moratorium with open arms and are appreciative of what the results have done for the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

“We are definitely benefiting from it,” said Darshan Kholi, manager at Morris Miller Liquors. “It has helped to discourage people from drinking and hanging out around the store.”

Officer Randall Butler, an 18-year veteran in the Ward 4 police department, agrees that the Single Sales Moratorium, combined with increased foot patrol, has made a significant impact on the quality of life in Ward 4.

“I would say that over the course of four years, the agreement has affected the loitering and trash accumulation significantly,” Officer Butler said. “We have seen an 80 percent decrease if not higher.”

But there are some exceptions to the overall response. Sheldon Plotnick, owner of Target Liquors at Fifth and Kennedy Streets Northwest says the ban on single sale alcoholic beverages was unfair as he insists that his corner was never flooded with loitering or litter.

“It was quiet when we were selling singles, and there was some trash every once and a while but we picked it up ourselves,” Plotnick said.

Plotnick is opposed to the moratorium for many reasons and says his right to sale liquor is being violated. “I have a license to sell this stuff,” he said. “It feels like they’re re-imposing prohibition – people that don’t know history will repeat it.”

Black, however, said that Plotnick’s particular area was one of the more problematic stretches in Ward 4. “That was one of the areas that had to be targeted because of the Kennedy Street environment,” he said. “But the area is seeing a lot of revitalization that we know is going to give us positive results.”

Kun Lee, owner of Jefferson Liquors, says that the advantages of the Single Sale Moratorium have not outweighed the disadvantages. “The street is empty, but we lose money,” Lee said. “Now customers can go to Ward 5 and Ward 3 for single beer. All we see is that customers are gone.”

But just next door, Solomon Teterra’s Ethiopian market is appreciating the changes that have occurred since the law went into effect last year. “We used to see so many empty bottles and potato chip bags all over the ground, and sometimes the broken glass would puncture tires,” Teterra said. “It has a quieted down, and I’m sure it’s because of the ban.”

Some loiterers, however, have found ways to get around the law. According to Kohli of Morris Miller, there’s only so much that can be done to hinder someone who is able to purchase the minimum.

“We can’t stop them, they still come in ask for single purchases, and when we refuse, some can still purchase six and drink one in front of the store, or they can share with friends,” he pointed out. “Since people are still asking, it makes me wonder if someone is still selling singles.”

Black is looking forward to hearing the decision on council member Bowser’s extension request and encourages those opposed to the ban to look at the progression that is evidenced by comparing Ward 4 to its neighboring wards.