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Dino Drudi’s letter to the editor (“fine Whining Establishments,” 1/12) requires a response. Drudi states that “the District of Columbia has one of the country’s highest per-capita alcohol consumption levels” and uses this point to support arguments that the sales of alcohol are under-regulated.
The fact is that per-capita alcohol-consumption statistics are skewed by the fact that the District of Columbia is: 1) an entertainment destination for in-region nonresidents, and these visitors often consume alcoholic beverages while patronizing restaurants and other establishments while visiting; 2) a primary employment center for the region, and many people who work in the city do not live here but do consume food and alcohol while in the city at lunch or after work hours; and 3) a city that upward of 15 million out-of-region residents visit each year for pleasure or business, consuming food, alcohol, and other beverages during their stays.
In any case, it is important to consider the regulation of the sales of alcoholic beverages in a more nuanced fashion than Drudi suggests. Fundamentally, there are at least four categories of establishments that should be treated quite differently in terms of assessing their impact, positive or negative, on neighborhoods and business development.
First, package sales of alcohol (Class A and B licensees) have been an issue for many years, because such products are often consumed in public spaces in ways that contribute to disorder and abet public nuisances. Attempts to regulate the sales of single items result from this fact.
Second, restaurants are necessary components of commercial districts, providing patrons with the means to refresh themselves (and spend more time shopping). Because of the economics of urban retail, most restaurants need to sell alcohol to be competitively equal vis-à-vis other establishments, to meet the preferences of potential guests, and to generate the revenue required to function profitably in a difficult environment of high rents, high costs, and high taxes.
Third, nightclubs and taverns, which tend to appeal to younger crowds, who drink more, are more likely to drink to excess, and may behave more violently, need an additional level of regulation that isn’t necessarily provided for in current laws, although my understanding is that the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is exploring a variety of strategies to address the issues posed by such establishments. This is especially true in entertainment districts such as Adams Morgan or Georgetown, which experience exceptionally large crowds Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. (But note, while residents think these neighborhoods are the equivalent of Bourbon Street in New Orleans, even places like Adams Morgan on a Saturday night are tame by comparison.)
Finally, restaurants in mixed-use settings abutting residential areas or located near schools need to have licensing flexibility that goes beyond the blue-law-type legal reasoning that has shaped regulation since alcohol sales were legalized again in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition.
In restaurants, most alcohol is consumed after 7 p.m., so forbidding the sale of alcohol in restaurants within 400 feet of a school seems meaningless and would have little effect on the conduct of schoolchildren in classrooms hundreds of feet away, even during the school day. (This law was changed in December.)
Similarly, churches often contest the sale of alcohol in close proximity to their facilities, which are often located in or abutting commercial districts, where such products are most likely to be sold. Given that the activities at most churches tend to be between 8 a.m. and noon on Sundays—four hours of 168 hours in a week, it hardly seems reasonable that a church has extranormal suasion capability to limit normal business practices and business development in mixed-use commercial districts. (Class A establishments are not even open on Sundays.)
The fact is that most of the city’s neighborhood commercial districts are languishing. In part this is because they don’t have decent restaurants with the kinds of attractive offerings, fair prices, and decent service that would attract neighborhood residents to come by for a meal a couple times a week.
Restaurants like La Lomita, Banana Cafe, Lauriol Plaza, and others seeded commercial-district revitalization long before other businesses began to open up in nearby vacant storefronts. Not allowing neighborhood restaurants to sell alcohol would make it impossible for most city neighborhoods to attract and retain successful, quality restaurants.
Restaurants drive commercial-district revitalization forward. And this should be recognized in the regulatory process, which should simultaneously respect residents and address and ameliorate possible negative impacts.
In last week’s Cheap Seats (“Post Position”), columnist Dave McKenna mistakenly referred to the home of Oak Hill Academy as “Mouth of the Wilson, Va.” In fact, the town’s name is Mouth of Wilson.
In his City Lights preview last week of “Fresh Paint: Process and Possibility” at the Arlington Arts Center, Jeffry Cudlin didn’t disclose that he’d previously worked with artist Christopher Hoeting—whose contribution to “Fresh Paint” was cast in a favorable light in the preview—as part of a collaborative art project at Flashpoint.
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