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Safeway seeks beer, wine licenses

(Published January 14, 2002)

By KATHRYN SINZINGER

Staff Writer

Safeway has applied for licenses to sell beer and wine at three more of its D.C. stores, including one located in a Northwest neighborhood that currently has a limited moratorium on new liquor licenses.

The supermarket chain’s application for a Class B alcoholic beverage license at its Columbia Road store is sparking controversy in Adams Morgan, where the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission planned to focus a portion of its Jan. 14 public forum on the issue. The neighborhood moratorium on Class B licenses exempts several types of businesses, including grocery stores, but some area residents still are vehemently opposed to allowing Safeway to become the sixth retailer within two blocks to sell alcoholic beverages.

Safeway also is seeking Class B licenses for its stores at the Rhode Island Avenue Shopping Center in Northeast Washington and at Good Hope Marketplace in Southeast. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27 before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on all three applications.

"We understand the concerns," said Safeway spokesman Craig Muckle. "I think ‘beer and wine’ is important in the minds of many who are concerned about public vagrancy issues."

Muckle said company representatives have begun a series of meetings with neighborhood groups to discuss their concerns. He acknowledged that sales of single beers are a major concern in many D.C. neighborhoods and said Safeway has agreed to "no single sales in 16 ounce or smaller" containers.

"There may be some singles [sales] in specialty beers," Muckle said, citing some more expensive, foreign-produced products. "Those aren’t necessarily the kinds of things that contribute to public drinking."

Safeway, a California-based company that maintains local offices in suburban Maryland, currently holds a Class A license for its Kentucky Avenue SE store on Capitol Hill. That license, which the ABC Board renewed last year, permits the sale of hard liquor as well as beer and wine.

Muckle said Safeway "got a lot of support from our customers" when surveys about selling alcoholic beverages were conducted at some stores about a year ago. He emphasized the "convenience" factor for customers, who could avoid making a second stop to buy a bottle of wine to go with dinner. Some customers also said they would feel more comfortable buying beer and wine at the grocery store than venturing into a liquor store, he said.

Grocery chains were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages at more than one store in the District of Columbia until D.C. City Council changed the law in 1999 to accommodate the Fresh Fields natural foods chain’s plans to build a second store in the District near Logan Circle. The revised law permits new grocery stores or substantially renovated stores to apply for an ABC license.

Safeway initially planned to seek a license for its store that straddles Georgia Avenue and Piney Branch Road in Ward 4, but Muckle said "technical" problems with the store’s renovations and the revised law’s restrictions have delayed that application.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator