Frederick Ince, owner of Ince's Texaco at 1100 Eastern Ave. NE on the District-Maryland line, says his business has decreased 50 percent since the city imposed higher gasoline taxes two years ago. As a result, he says, he has had to lay off five full-time employes and is running the business himself with only one part-time worker.
Ince has joined a number of service station owners who have applied for licenses to sell beer and wine to help keep their businesses alive.
"There's no difference between buying here and at a liquor store," said Ince, who added that he doesn't believe that by selling liquor he would be endangering the public safety. "How much can a person drink between here and his destination?" he asked.
But several city neighborhood organizations oppose permitting service stations to sell alcohol as a means of generating extra income. Civic groups charge that selling beer and wine at gasoline stations encourages drinking and driving and furthers the drunk-driving problem. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, alcohol was a factor in 16 city traffic fatalities last year.
Service station owners, however, claim that business is so poor because of economic conditions that they must expand their operations beyond selling gasoline. The stations involved already have been expanded to sell convenience items but their owners say the sale of beer and wine is essential to their survival. The owners say drunk driving will not increase if they are allowed to sell beer and wine, contending that there is little difference between buying alcoholic beverages at a gas station or at a liquor store.
The five stations applying for Class B (beer and wine) liquor licenses are scattered throughout the city in neighborhoods ranging from lower- to upper-income. The stations are: Tenley Circle Citgo, 4326 Wisconsin Ave. NW; Ince's Texaco; Law's Texaco, 2201 Georgia Ave. NW; AM-PM Mini-Mart, 4700 South Capitol St. SE; and Kim's Arco, 5670 Central Ave. SE.
If the applications, now pending before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC), are approved, the stations would be allowed to sell beer and wine seven days a week from 8 a.m. until midnight.
Only one District service station--Jameson's Amoco, 2600 14th Street NW--has ever been granted a liquor license, according to Dallas Evans, acting staff director at ABC. Jameson's Amoco has been granted a Class A liquor license, permitting it to sell liquor as well as beer and wine. The ABC Board denied Jameson's application in 1977 but its decision was overruled by the D.C. Court of Appeals a year later.
The station has not opened yet because of a property dispute, according to its owner, Sidney Drason, but plans are still proceeding for a service station, car wash and liquor store at one location. A wall would separate the liquor store from the station and car wash.
Legislation that would outlaw the sale of alcoholic beverages at service stations was reintroduced recently by City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon. The bill, the ABC Amendment Act of 1981, is being studied by the council's Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs.
"When you associate alcohol and gasoline so closely, it only increases the likelihood of drinking and driving," Dixon said.
The owners of the Tenley Circle Citgo are facing community opposition to their attempts to sell beer and wine. The station, located on the busy thoroughfare, is surrounded by a number of schools, churches and residences.
Dr. Doris Mosley, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner from ANC 3E, said the ANC voted against the application for a variety of reasons. "The concept of selling beer and wine at a site with gasoline sort of signified to the community that we sanctioned drinking and driving," she said. Other complaints expressed by residents at last month's ANC meeting included fears that there will be an increase in litter and traffic congestion and negative effects on schools in the area.
Area residents also worry that the recent increase in Maryland's drinking age from 18 to 21 could pose problems for the District, according to James Springmann, a member of the American University Park Citizens Association and the Friendship Neighborhood Coalition, two civic associations opposed to the Citgo license.
"The timing is very much to the liking of the applicant to attract Maryland teen-agers," Springmann charged. He said that if such licenses are granted, it will have a city-wide impact because of problems associated with teen-agers who come from Maryland to buy beer and wine.
"At a time when the nation is trying to curb drunk driving, the District will be encouraging it," Springmann said of the proposed applications.
At a recent ABC hearing on the Citgo license application, the Rev. Msgr. William Awalt, pastor of St. Ann's Church, which is half a block from the station, testified that granting such licenses will lead to an increase in traffic fatalities.
"I'm a little tired of going to a parent's home and telling them their child won't be coming home because he's dead from drinking and driving," he said.
But one of the station's owners, Joseph Rinaldi, said the number of people opposed to the liquor license is a minority.
Rinaldi said his reasons for seeking the license are purely economic. "With gasoline prices going down, I have to generate money somehow and I don't know how else to do it," he said. Rinaldi explained that selling beer and wine will enable him to afford the station building and property, which he recently purchased for $650,000.
One neighborhood resident said he is concerned about lives, not economics.
"Should we worry about them going bankrupt at the expense of increased traffic accidents and teen-age deaths?" Springmann asked.
Economic conditions are also a main reason that Harold Kim, owner of Kim's Arco, 5670 Central Ave. SE, is applying for a liquor permit. Kim, who has owned the station for five years, said that two years ago he was selling 80,000 gallons of gasoline a month, but today his sales have been cut in half.
Minnie Robinson, chairman of ANC 7E, said residents are against the liquor license because there is a drug and loitering problem across the street from Kim's station and if beer and wine were sold there the problem would only get worse. She said more than 500 people signed a petition opposing the license.
But Larry Ford, who represents Kim, said that, although there is a loitering problem in the area, he has received 580 signatures supporting the license.
While community opposition against liquor licenses for most stations has been mounting recently, Law's Texaco received support from neighborhood residents and their ANC, according to the ABC.
David Parker, ANC 1B commissioner, wrote the ABC Board in February that his commission was backing the station's attempts to sell beer and wine.
"We are unaware of any substantial community opposition to this application," Parker wrote.
However, ANC 1B never voted to approve the application, according to 1B Chairman Anwar Saleem. He said the board asked Parker to solicit community opinion on the application and report back to the commission.
"My district is firmly against" licensing Law's Texaco to sell liquor, Saleem said. "If I ever voted for it my community would hang me." Saleem said that he did sign the letter Parker sent to the ABC Board but that "it was an error on my part."
Parker maintained, however, that residents were not concerned about the license because the station is surrounded by commercial establishments and any negative impact would not directly affect them.
But there is mixed sentiment in the service station industry about the trend for liquor licenses.
"I don't think alcohol should be sold at any service station," said Paul Longley, president of the Greater Washington-Maryland Service Station Association, an organization that represents station owners. "It only encourages drinking and driving."
Longley said the association will take a position on the matter within the next 30 days but added that most members concur with his stand.
"We need to make it as hard as possible for people behind the wheel to get hold of alcohol," he said. Longley noted that beer and wine sales at service stations are also a growing trend in the Midwest, and Virginia and some counties in Maryland currently allow such sales.