A proposal by the Mount Pleasant Advisory Neighborhood Commission to ban the sale of beer by the bottle and liquor by the half-pint in its community has outraged business owners.
The proposal asks store owners to stop selling single bottles of beer 12 ounces or less and half pints of wine or liquor if they expect ANC support for renewal of their alcoholic beverage licenses, which expire Dec. 31. The ANC says the ban is necessary to fight the increasing incidence of public drunkenness in the area, but store owners say the elimination of the small sales would drive up prices and put them out of business.
"It's blackmail," said Herbert Lowey, owner of Kilbourne Liquor Store, 3174 Mount Pleasant St. NW. "If we don't sign this agreement with them, they said they'll be up at the ABC Board to complain when our licenses are up.
"The holidays are our busiest time," said Lowey, who has owned his store since 1967. "We don't have time to go down and be tied up in hearings. It's just not fair. Without the half-pint business, we may as well close our doors."
Advisory neighborhood commissioners are elected to advise city agencies on governmental policies that will effect their neighborhood.
An ANC can oppose the issuance or reissuance of a specific license, but the neighborhood groups cannot set policy, said Benjamin Johnson, head of the Business Regulation Administration of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
The ANC-1E newsletter, recently distributed to businesses and residences in the area, said, "Mount Pleasant ANC has received an alarming number of complaints about public drunkenness on Mount Pleasant Street and associated violent attacks on neighbors, litter and glass on the street and adjoining property . . . harassment of women . . . and physical obstruction of sidewalks by drunks. The ANC is currently designing a program to combat alcoholism and the above associated problems."
The newsletter also states, "The proposed policy sets out conditions a businesses must fulfill in order to gain ANC approval for its alcoholic beverage license."
Stanley Allen, chairman of ANC-1E, said of Mount Pleasant Street, "There are three liquor stores and 18 other businesses licensed to sell beer and wine on that street."
He added, "We're just trying to make the businesses more aware of the problem . . . . We know alcoholism is a social problem, but that is nothing we can legislate. I know some of the businesses feel threatened, but if they can better help, a lot of people who live in Mount Pleasant wouldn't be afraid to shop there."
But Lowey believes his fellow businessmen have already acted like good neighbors. "We've fenced the area, painted buildings, cleaned trash, done everything these people want, but there's just no satisfying them," he said.
"They want to turn Mount Pleasant into a Connecticut Avenue," Lowey said. "I think it's just another way of forcing low-income people out of here so they can raise the price and invest in the real estate. It's certainly not going to stop people from drinking on the sidewalks."
He added, "We're not just talking about the cheap liquor. The good liquor sells better in the half-pints around here. A half-pint of Remy Martin (a cognac) costs $8.99, but a fifth cost $25. Everybody can't afford a fifth, but they still might want good liquor."
William Stowell, owner of another Mount Pleasant Street market, said that the sale of single beers is the backbone of his business.
"I have to sell them cheap and don't make much of a profit," he said. "A six-pack of Heineken costs $5, but a single is $1. I make more profit off the six-pack when I sell it by the single."