Single Beer Ban: D.C. Officials Want To Broaden Controversial Policy

Capitol Hill Corner Store Battle Heats Up

While New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg wages war on supersized sodas, local Washington, D.C., politicians have been battling beers.

First, the D.C. Council banned the sale of individual containers of beer, malt liquor and small booze bottles in most of the city. Beer distributors immediately responded by offering two-packs and three-packs. Now a local neighborhood council wants stores to stop selling those, too.

Bobby Coleman, manager of S&J Liquors in Southeast D.C., said he will not obey.

"It's unfair. It all started back when they wanted us to stop selling half a pint, so we gave in to that," Coleman said through an opening in the bulletproof glass separating cashiers from customers in his store. "I think if this is upheld, us not selling two- and three-packs, I honestly think I might end up losing my job because nobody's going to want to come in here."

In February 2009, the D.C. Council prohibited stores in the Ward 6 section of Washington -- an area that stretches from around the U.S. Capitol to the Anacostia River -- from selling single beers without the permission of local alcohol regulators. Several other neighborhoods had already adopted the policy.

Proponents of the singles ban said it would ward off troublemaking drunks, people who buy one beer and then hang around drinking it on the sidewalk. In a press release announcing the new law, Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells said that after singles were banned along the H Street corridor in Northeast, there was a significant reduction in calls to police and arrests for public drinking, urination and disorderly conduct in the 6 months that followed.

Strangely, the ward-wide ban did not have the same results. In the months after the law took effect, more people called police to complain and more people were arrested for alcohol-related disorderly conduct than during a corresponding period in the previous year, according to data D.C. police shared with HuffPost.

Police in the First District, which has similar boundaries to Ward 6, arrested 389 people for open container violations from February through August 2009, compared with 260 people during those months in 2008, before singles had been banned. Sixty-three people were arrested for urinating or defecating in public, versus 46 people in 2008. Complaint calls to the department about these behaviors also increased dramatically from 184 to 319.

Citywide, arrests for public drinking and open container violations decreased slightly from 2008 to 2009, while more people were charged for public urination. Wells' office declined to comment on the data.

Neil Glick, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who lives across the street from S&J Liquors, said the area has benefited from the singles ban. He said people used to drink all day and relieve themselves in alleyways and on the street, and litter was everywhere.

"Since singles were banned in Ward 6, that drastically changed," Glick said in an email. "Our neighborhood has become quieter. We don't see people loitering around drunk all day. We still have the trash, and we still have the public drinking, but now it is in groups of two or three people. Because of the alcohol, the people get very loud and boisterous."

In March, the ANC voted unanimously in favor of including a ban on two-packs and three-packs in all voluntary agreements the commission signs with stores that sell alcohol. If a store doesn't sign an agreement, commissioners can protest the store's liquor license renewal. The law requires city agencies to give ANC recommendations "great weight."

Bobby Coleman said S&J Liquors won't sign an agreement, no matter how great the weight.

"We're taking it all the way till the end. We're not giving in," he said, noting that the commission's boundary extends two blocks past his store. The next commission over doesn't have a policy against two-packs and three-packs.

"If you come in here with the intention of, all you want is one or two beers, and you can't [buy them] because you have to buy a six-pack, but you can walk two more blocks down the street, that's going to kill our business," Coleman said.

DISCLOSURE: In 2008, when he was working as a freelancer for the Washington City Paper, this reporter campaigned on a pro-single beer platform to unseat Neil Glick as a journalistic stunt. Glick easily won reelection.

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