The word spread on a Reddit thread, in texts between friends, and on street corners in Northwest Washington: In honor of International Women’s Day, a liquor store in Columbia Heights would be giving out 1,000 bottles of wine to women who walked in the door on Friday.
More than a dozen calls from intrigued customers poured into the shop — Downtown Liquors on 14th Street NW — on Thursday night. “Is this for real?” Callers asked the store owner, Jaspreet Singh Tandon, who goes by J.P. “Are you really giving away free wine?”
It was, in fact, real — for the most part. Each woman who stopped by Tandon’s shop on Friday, anytime between 10 a.m. and midnight, could choose a bottle from one of six different kinds of wine and purchase it for 1 cent.
The narrow store, lined with shelves of wine and liquor from floor to ceiling, was one of many local businesses and restaurants celebrating the 110th annual International Women’s Day through deals and promotions. Tandon began the tradition last year, giving out about 200 bottles of wine as a gesture of gratitude to women and a way to draw new customers into the store, which he had opened just three months prior.
For the 50-year-old father of two, who moved to the United States from Punjab, India, about a decade ago, the day holds a special significance this year. Last week, after years of waiting, his 19-year-old daughter back in India found out that her immigration documents for her to move to the United States had been finalized.
Talking to his daughter, Jessica, via FaceTime on Thursday night, Tandon told her about the 1,000 bottles he planned to give out to women on Friday.
“I’m doing a Women’s Day celebration,” he said, “and I’m dedicating it to you.”
He dedicated the gesture not only to his daughter but to all of the women in his life. He thought about his four protective older sisters. He thought about his 78-year-old mother, who plans to visit the United States later this month.
“I’m thanking my mother, my sisters, my cousins, every woman that helped me out in my life,” he said. “A woman is a teacher. Women are very strong. If you want to understand something, you have got to follow women. That is what my theory is.”
Tandon says it’s an annual celebration he hopes to continue “as long as I live.” He hopes his son, who also aims to open his own business someday, will carry on the tradition.
“This has become a symbol of our store,” he said. “It’s a gesture of love.”
Women slowly trickled into the store throughout the snowy afternoon on Friday, taking breaks from work to buy a bottle of wine — each normally priced at $10 or more — for a penny. (Tandon said he cannot, under D.C. law, give away free alcohol.)
Jennifer Richmond, 31, a PhD student at the University of Maryland, lives a block away from the store and stopped by while working from home Friday, just after getting off a conference call. She’s a regular at the store and heard about it from an employee earlier in the week.
“Happy women’s day!” Tandon said as she walked through the door. “What kind of wine do you want?”
“This is amazing, thanks for doing this!” she told him.
Walking out with her bottle of dry red wine, she said she was glad to see local businesses raising awareness of the holiday. “At least if we’re not going to be paid equally we’re being compensated with wine,” she said, laughing.
For other loyal customers from the neighborhood, the deal was met with surprise. Reyna Arias, 47, owner of a nearby Salvadoran restaurant, walked into the store Friday morning to buy a bottle of Tito’s vodka and Tandon offered her a bottle of wine for a penny. She happily obliged.
“We’re hard workers, we’re mothers, we’re grandmothers,” she added. “We should enjoy a glass of wine and celebrate on our own, even if we don’t have someone else to share it with.”
On Reddit, however, Tandon’s wine promotion — and the holiday in general — was a bit more controversial.
“It feels like lip service,” one Reddit user commented. “For example, free wine. How does that help plan for progress?
“It’s an expression of support for women,” another user replied. “It lets a thousand women save a few bucks. Not every action requires a concrete result.”
“Well that’s not fair,” wrote another. “I want free wine.”
“I want equal wages and to not be harassed on the street, but here we are,” responded one woman. “I’ll take a bottle of alcohol.”