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Ward 4 singles out ‘tall boys’ in beer ban

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A woman sat on the rim of a garbage can in front of a liquor store near Georgia Avenue NW recently and begged for handouts as she sipped on a can of Bud Light -- perhaps her last "tall boy" before a new D.C. law bans the sale of single cans or bottles of beer in Ward 4 for the next four years.

"If we can't buy single beers, it's going to [hurt] us," said the 47-year-old woman, who called herself Hope. "Can we buy a six-pack for $6 when we ain't got but a dollar?"

The law took effect Sept. 29, but merchants have until Nov. 14 to sell off their stock of 24-ounce cans known as "tall boys" and 40-ounce bottles known as "40s." After that, no individual beer container of less than 70 ounces will be sold in Ward 4.

The ban will force customers to purchase six-packs because brewers do not package beer for individual sale in containers larger than 70 ounces.

Hope and other poor residents in the area say the law discriminates against them, adding to the gentrification that is steadily pushing them out of the city. But homeowners and shopkeepers say keeping beer out of the hands of such people will reduce public drunkenness and loitering, and clean up sidewalks.

Ernie Jarvis, 42, a commercial real estate broker who has lived in Ward 4 all his life, said 40s are "poison to this community."

"I think [the ban] is a wonderful law, and I think it is going to have a positive impact on the community and should spread throughout the city," Mr. Jarvis said.

However, the owners of Ward 4's mom-and-pop convenience stores -- which sell the bulk of single beers -- expect the ban will hurt their bottom line.

"I'm not feeling good because our sales are 40 [percent] to 50 percent single beers," said Teshome Chekole, 42, owner of Town & Country Market on Upshur Street NW.

He said his customers live in the neighborhood and take their beer home, even if they opt to buy five 24-ounce cans of Budweiser for 99 cents each instead of a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles for $5.30. Now, he said, they will walk a couple of blocks to the next ward, where single beers will still be for sale.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and sponsor of the four-year ban, said it rightly targets alcohol packaged for immediate consumption on sidewalks and in alleys.

"I don't think there is anything good that comes out of public drunkenness," Mr. Fenty said. "There is disorderly conduct, public urination, drinking and driving, and you can imagine other problems associated with being drunk in public."

Other wards are studying Ward 4's experiment. Leaders of the advisory neighborhood commission in Ward 6 on Capitol Hill, for example, are considering banning the sales of singles on specific streets in Northeast.

Mr. Fenty cites Mount Pleasant, in Ward 1, as an example of how a ban on single-beer sales can turn around a neighborhood without hamstringing mom-and-pop shops. The Mount Pleasant ban applies only to that community and not to the entire ward.

Community leaders in Mount Pleasant worked for years to do away with the sale of individual beers, protesting the renewal of liquor licenses in the area until every liquor store and mom-and-pop shop agreed to a ban. That was four years ago.

"We've seen a dramatic improvement in our neighborhood," said Laurie Collins, who spearheaded the ban campaign in Mount Pleasant when she was an advisory neighborhood commissioner.

"We have less garbage on the street. We hardly ever see beer bottles around," Mrs. Collins said. "The yards are cleaner. There aren't any drunks [and] they used to be part of our landscape. They used to be urinating and defecating all over our neighborhood."

Veronica West, owner of the El West clothier on Mount Pleasant Street, said she can see a difference right outside her shop window.

"We used to have people hang around that corner all the time, and we don't have that anymore," said Miss West, 37. "I miss them, though. They were nice drunks."

Still, she said she doesn't miss the beer bottles lining the street or the petty crimes committed by the drunks.

Mrs. Collins and Mr. Fenty stressed that not a single liquor store or mom-and-pop corner market in Mount Pleasant has gone out of business. But the business owners say the drop in sales was sharp and long-lasting.

"We lost more than $2,000 or $3,000 a month," said Esther Hwang, 52, owner of Sambar Market on Mount Pleasant Street. "The neighborhood wanted us to keep selling [single beers]. Only the ANC people kept bothering us."

While some Mount Pleasant homeowners welcomed the ban, others blamed an influx of wealthier residents for trying to sanitize the neighborhood's street culture.

"People hang out on the street because that's what people do. There's nothing wrong with that," said Judith Anderson, 62, a retired high school librarian and longtime Mount Pleasant resident. "It was never a problem, but that depends on your definition of a problem."

Miss Anderson called the single-beer ban a "yuppie thing."

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