- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

L. Napoleon Cooper maintains a lonely vigil near the entrance of the newly opened Harris Teeter grocery store in the former roller rink known as the Citadel, in the 1600 block of Kalorama Road in Northwest.

The 60-year-old Mr. Cooper, who lives in the Reed-Cooke section of Adams Morgan, parks himself in front of the store each day, with protest placards and information sheets in hand, fighting the “powerful forces” that allowed the supermarket to obtain a Class B beer and wine license a month before its grand opening in late April.

It is Mr. Cooper´s contention that because Harris Teeter is within the Reed-Cooke overlay, the selling of alcohol for off-premises consumption is prohibited. Section 1401.1 of the city´s zoning regulations seems straightforward. It reads: “The following uses shall be prohibited … off-premises alcoholic beverage sales.”

Yet the corporate honchos of Harris Teeter were able to skirt the conditions of the overlay with the help of a former zoning administrator and legal maneuvering. They also were able to overcome the opposition of the Reed-Cooke Neighborhood Association, the Dorchester 43 and the Kalorama 7.

Mr. Cooper says Harris Teeter forged an uneasy peace in part with the Kalorama 7 by holding a lottery that awarded eight of its roughly 125 parking spaces to the residents of the 16 row houses across the narrow street from the supermarket.

The residents would argue that the project was a done deal from the outset and that the awarding of parking spaces was the least the supermarket could do in the highly dense neighborhood that owes its improvement to the steady gentrification of the last generation.

The three small grocers in the neighborhood persevered in the bad old days, with the conviction that one day they would prosper as the neighborhood underwent revitalization.

That prospect has given way to fear. Yeheyis Getachew, who owns Dorchester Market-Deli, about 70 feet from Harris Teeter, has seen his business drop by 30 percent since the opening of Harris Teeter. The Ethiopian immigrant says he cannot compete with the chain.

“I don´t know if I can survive, if I can stay here,” he says. “I´m really frightened.”

Mr. Getachew and his sister purchased the small grocery story in 1995, when being held up at gunpoint was a hazard of the job. They see a neighborhood that has replaced many of its low-income housing projects with upscale condominiums. They see a neighborhood that is embracing corporate America.

The plight of Mr. Getachew is one of the driving forces behind Mr. Cooper.

“To see these people muscle this man, it just offends me to the core,” Mr. Cooper says. “That´s why I am picketing, and that´s why I´m taking it to court and looking to expose this fraud.”

Mr. Cooper and Getachew LLC say they will file a complaint for relief and a temporary restraining order with D.C. Superior Court next week. They contend that Harris Teeter should be denied the capacity to sell alcohol until the issue is resolved in court.

Their proposed legal action targets 10 defendants: Harris Teeter; developers Douglas Jemal and Faison Development; the former and current zoning administrator; Maureen Gallagher and Darrell H. Allison, who withdrew the protest of the Kalorama 7; the chairmen of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Board of Zoning Adjustment; and the former chairman of the ABC Board.

However the legal battle goes down, Mr. Cooper is not retiring from his place in the 1600 block of Kalorama Road. He sees all manner of heavy-handedness that enabled Harris Teeter to set up shop along a stretch of narrow asphalt that struggles to accommodate large delivery trucks.

The Shreveport, La., native says he once spent more than a year on a picket line in his hometown during the civil rights movement of the ´60s. And he is not about to walk away from this cause, not with so many dark questions tugging on him.

“I don´t think this deal can withstand the light of day,” Mr. Cooper says.

And so he returns to his post and to the shoppers making their way to Harris Teeter.

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