Young and Hungry

Follow That Story: Georgetown Wine and Spirits Still Can’t Sell Single Beers Yet

Last month, Y&H was feeling pretty good about himself. With a little old-fashioned phone work and stubbornness, he was able to answer a question that had mystified Georgetown Wine and Spirits for weeks: Would the package store need to honor the new ban on single beer sales in Ward 2 or could it continue to operate under its voluntary agreement with the Georgetown ANC, which allowed the place to sell high-end bombers and Belgians priced at $4.99 or higher?

Back in February, Cynthia Simms, community resource officer with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, said that ANC voluntary agreements take precedence over the new law, which meant that Georgetown W&S could avoid the onerous waiver process and still continue to sell single beers. All it would need to do is appear before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board with a copy of its voluntary agreement.

Well, for James Ackerman, wine manager for Georgetown, that presented a problem. He couldn't find his ANC agreement. Nor could the ANC, and when Ackerman and his boss tried to contact ABRA, the city said it didn't have a copy of the agreement either. What's more, Ackerman told Y&H this week that Simms informed him that, should he miraculously find his ANC agreement, Georgetown W&S would still have to go through the multi-step application process to secure an official waiver to the ban.

As soon as I could, I got on the phone with Simms at ABRA. She didn't recall telling me that licensees like Georgetown W&S could skip the waiver process if it just presented its ANC agreement to the ABC Board. She did say that ANC agreements still trump the new law, but that all licensees must go through the waiver process regardless.

So how burdensome is the waiver process? As I wrote in February, stores must have a letter of support from their ANC; they must not have broken any liquor laws for the past 12 months; they must prove the exemption will not adversely impact the neighborhood; and they must show community involvement. If a store can do all that, the ABC Board will exempt it.

You can understand why a store that, only months ago, was happily selling high-end microbrews to the Georgetown set wouldn't want to jump through all these hoops just resume the business.

It's situations like this that give bureaucrats a really bad name.

  • Molly Redden

    And even if they jumped through all those hoops, there's no saying for sure that the ANC will fully cooperate. When Dixie liquor sought an exemption, Charles Eason poo-pooed their community involvement and they didn't get everything exempted that they asked for.

  • Georgetown Metropolitan

    ANC2E is in the process of granting a blanket waiver to all "good" liquor stores (i.e. non-trouble ones). So both PWS and Dixie will be allowed to sell what they want regardless of the VAs they have (assuming the VA doesn't explicitly bar it). It's not clear yet what steps they have to take to do it, but both the ANC and CAG are on board with the blanket waiver.

  • cash house buyer

    How do I add this to my RSS reader? Sorry I'm a newbie :(

  • James Ackerman

    I know it's a violation of protocol to be rational, but there would be an easy way to short-circuit the whole process. It could easily have been written into the original statute, god forbid it should have made sense. The undesirable single beers sell for in the neighborhood of $.06/oz., whereas the craft and imported brews, some of which are only available in single bottles, start in the neighborhood of $.25/oz. There is hardly anything in between. So you establish a price per unit volume threshold that drives away the consumer of cheap high gravity beer. It could be written so as to accommodate price inflation. The same could be done for half-pints of liquor, although not quite so easily. Retailers who comply with the other requirements could voluntarily agree to abide by the pricing stipulations. Simple.

    This, however, is not what is in the works. What is in the works for ANC2e is not at all obvious. If they are coming up with a blanket waiver agreement, they are keeping mighty quiet about it. It's not like this ANC is chock-a-block with off-premise vendors. The Dupont Circle ANC, which has more of a pro-business outlook, promulgated and instituted a blanket waiver process within weeks of the new law's passing.

    It is interesting that, during an ABC Control Board hearing on the liquor half-pint issue, one of the commissioners replied to a question from the floor about the waiver process: "Well, if you're having trouble with your ANC, just come straight to the ABRA." I don't believe it, because we have come straight to the ABRA. It just goes to show how few people understand the new law and what confusion there is over its administration. No one really knows who the controlling agency is or which documents have legal authority.