- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The District’s ban on selling singles of alcohol in Ward 4 is intended to reduce nuisances such as loitering and public drunkenness, but merchants say the early effect has been a decline in overall sales.

“When [people] come for one thing, they’re buying a lot of things,” said Teshome Chekole, owner of Town and Country Market on Upshur Street in Northwest. “All of our stuff has gone down.”

The retailers are prohibited from selling single containers of up to 70 ounces of beer, malt liquor or ale.

D.C. Council enacted the ban in 2004, but the legislation was held up in court for three years. Spearheading the ban was council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and now mayor.

An injunction that blocked enforcement was lifted in June. The moratorium officially took effect Aug. 1 for stores in Northwest neighborhoods around Georgia Avenue, 14th Street and elsewhere.

Paul Pascal, a lawyer who represented about 70 merchants opposed to the ban, said a Superior Court judge could decide next month on whether the moratorium violates the Home Rule Act.

Merchants say the effect is clear.

“So many people are coming and leaving,” said Bisrat Mekuria, owner of Family Food Market on New Hampshire Avenue in Northwest. Customers are “very mad at us. They’re not aware of what the law is.”

Mr. Chekole said sales have decreased by 35 percent to 40 percent since the ban took effect. He said customers looking for a single in his store can walk a few blocks to find one in Ward 1. Mr. Merkuria faces the same problem.

“When a customer comes to buy a beer, they’re not just coming to buy a beer; they’re buying cigarettes or another product,” Mr. Mekuria said. “They don’t find what they want, they move to another place.”

City officials say such restrictions help curb problems associated with drinking, including loitering, littering and public drunkenness.

Metropolitan Police Department statistics on the effects of the ban were not available yesterday. Council member Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, said she hopes to study data after the restrictions have been in place for several months.

“Residents in Ward 4 have long complained about the oversaturation of liquor-selling establishments and the impact they’ve had on neighborhoods,” she said. “The community … has overwhelmingly supported a ban on single sales.”

The ban is set to expire in September 2008. Ms. Bowser said it is “certainly possible” she will attempt to extend or renew it.

Ms. Bowser said she also is committed to helping merchants. She was expected to meet with representatives from the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration and the city’s Department of Small and Local Business Development to discuss assistance to merchants struggling with the change.

A similar ban was imposed about six years ago in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest.

Calls to police for service in the area’s three-block commercial corridor decreased from 1,500 in 2000 to 650 last year as a result of the moratorium, said former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Laurie Collins, who spearheaded a drive for the ban.

A similar effort to reduce public drunkenness, urination and other nuisances also has led to bans on single alcohol sales on H Street in Northeast.

Merchants from the 700 to 1400 blocks of the historic corridor will be prohibited from selling single containers of beer and liquor in half-pint volume. The three-year moratorium is expected to go into effect by the end of this month or early next month.

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