Joe Martin Comments on YES! Organic Market

I wanted to make sure that this comment didn’t get buried from yesterday’s post.

“I understand that this discussion comes out of a conversation the PoP had with a local merchant last night, and it’s fair to raise the discussion, one we have been having in ANC 4C for the past couple of months.

The issue is fairly cut and dry. Current law prohibits new supermarkets in Ward 4 from obtaining new beer-and-wine, Class B, licenses. The issue has nothing to do with restaurant, alcoholic beverage licenses, still available, and it’s a seperate issue from the “single sales” law in place.

The only current option available for Gary Cha, the owner of Yes! Organic Market, is for Mr. Cha to purchase a possibly available license from a convenience store owner elsewhere in Ward 4. The owner of that convenience store told Mr. Cha that he would have to buy the convenience store in order to get the accompanying license. Mr. Cha said at June’s ANC 4C meeting that he can’t afford to do so.

Safeway, meanwhile, has plans to build at new, “lifestyle” Safeway at its current location near the Georgia/Petworth Metro, and Safeway officials have made it clear that they want a beer-and-wine license for that location.

As a large, international corporation, Safely can easily choose the possible option currently available — buy and sell a convenience store elsewhere in the Ward in order to obtain a beer-and-wine license. Ditto Giant, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter or other large regional, national or international chains.

The current law, in effect, penalizes the little guy, Gary Cha and his Yes! Organic Market. One argument is that the law shouldn’t be changed to favor one business. The other side of that is that current law effectively only harms small, supermarket businesses, like Yes!, not the big ones. The big, corporate folks have more resources , therefore more options.

Sara Green, an ANC commissioner in Takoma, told me that she was one of the Takoma residents who favored the current law a few years back as a way of forcing the Piney Branch Safeway to become more responsive to the neighborhood. The tactic apparently didn’t work. The Piney Branch Safeway wasn’t affected by the new law and has a beer-and-wine license. Comment continues after the jump.

I recall from my own reading over the years and from conversations with my fellow ANC 4C Commissioner, Ron Bland, and others who have worked in supermarkets, the profit margin for supermarkets is slim. Gary Cha has stated that a beer-and-wine license would constitute about 12% of his anticipated sales.

Whether or not this is a deal-breaker remains to be seen.

A note about the benefits of competition is relevant here. The Safeway at 17th and Corcoran was long known by Dupont Circle residents as “the Soviet Safeway.” Shelves were sometimes bare, produce lousy, items on the shelves out of date. I vividly recall seeing an Albanian I knew who was then a waiter at Trio’s Restaurant walking out of that Safeway in those days with a look of exasperation on his face. “What’s wrong?,” I asked. He replied, “That Safeway reminds me of supermarkets in Albania. I hated growing up under communism!” I informed he that the neighborhood referred to it as “the Soviet Safeway.” “No wonder!,” he cried.

When the Whole Foods was within a few weeks of opening on the 1400 block of P, a few blocks away, those of us who lived in the Dupont area noticed the very favorable changes at the old, Soviet Safeway. The produce started looking attractive and fresh. Some of the cashiers who had been surly became friendlier and more helpful in tone. (Many were always wonderful, and I still love a great woman who has been working there for decades nicknamed “Tee.”) The store sparkled and looked cleaner.


Meanwhile, according to longtime Logan Circle area resident, Jeff Coudriet, a former ABRA employee who works for Councilmember Jack Evans, even the liquor stores, now facing the competition of Whole Foods’ beer-and-wine sales, cleaned up their acts. The sale of “singles” wrapped in dark, plastic bags to street drunks became less of a problem.


It’s what many of us hope for from having Yes! Organic Market arrive on Georgia at Taylor.

Neighborhood Development Company officials, the people building the structure at Georgia and Taylor, told me Gary Cha will need to decide soon whether or not to build out.

The topping off ceremony for “The Residences at Georgia,” the building in which Mr. Cha hopes to be doing business with a new Yes!, is scheduled for Tuesday, September 3.

The planned Yes! would be twice the size of the relatively new Yes! on 12th Street NE in Brookland, two blocks south of Michigan Avenue.

Yes! always somehow sounds better than “No!””

28 Comment

  • The beer and wine sales at the Piney Branch Safeway are a new thing. That started within the last few months. And thank god. Buying beer, wine and liquor in Ward 4 is such a ridiculous ordeal.

  • I agree, The beer-and-wine license laws in the District are stupid an reactionary

  • Can someone explain why we need liquor licenses?

  • Many thanks to Joe. What pressure do we need to bring to bear, in addition to the e-mails we’ve already sent to Muriel? Is she reacting, or do we need PoP to run as an alternative, focused on community development.

  • Good thinking, Sara Green… NOT! It does not take much thinking to realise that if alcohol should be sold anywhere (and it sure should), one of the best places, if not THE best place, to start would be with beer and wine in grocery stores.

    Ok, I think I will cave and mail that Muriel lady too.. so that she can “change the law” as she had put it.

  • After pondering the problem of the convience stores, I think Muriel is going to have a hard time on this one. Obviously we would all like to see YES get a license, but they put that moratorum in to prevent the spread of beer and wine sale in the small bodegas and to flip it now would open up a theoretical pandora’s box. It’s sad that a medium size business like YES is caught in this.

  • Having just moved here from Harlem, I really don’t understand the issue with corner stores. In fact, unless it is the area I live in I don’t really think there are an overbundance of them. In fact, I was sort of dissapointed that there weren’t more bodega options.

    The closest is on 5th and Randolph (I think).

    I could be desensitized to them since they are on every single corner in Harlem and they all sold singles. And, yes, people did drink on the street but I really haven’t even seen anything here that would even remotely compare to the street activity going on in Harlem. I was routinely woken up by dice games that went on all night long and people partying on the street. Of course, Petworth is huge so maybe I just live in a quiet part.

    I just seems crazy to halt economic development for a problem that doesn’t really seem to be that big of a deal.

    As more development occurs and commercial rent increases it will be hard for the corner stores to stay business anyway.

  • “Safeway, meanwhile, has plans to build at new, “lifestyle” Safeway at its current location near the Georgia/Petworth Metro, and Safeway officials have made it clear that they want a beer-and-wine license for that location.”

    Let me point out that Safeway has discussed this with the neighborhood exactly one time. As a near neighbor of that store, I am truly unhappy to hear them talking about this as a done deal before they have spent any amount of time with the residents. Every time they do this, they make me that much more likely to fight them all the way.

    I am not the only neighbor that feels that way.

  • In response to Eric’s question, grocery stores typically have a profit margin of about 1%. Allowing the sale of beer and wine would increase the profit margin and make it more worthwhile investment.

  • Saf, I am curious: why are you (are you?) against Safeway re-building their Petworth location?

  • Saf, that safeway is horrible. It should have been torn down years ago. It smells like a dead rat in there.

  • The Safeway is still far, far from being a done deal… By no stretch. The ANC would be among the first to be informed, and there has been no word since a large, well-attended, public meeting months ago. Not a word.

    I will check and report back. There are many of us who will want to see public meetings with full input from the community.

  • G – I am against it. If they can do it in an appropriate way, I may decide not to object. However, as I said, I am a near neighbor. REALLY NEAR. They want to block all the light to my house. They want to turn my alley into a driveway for their underground parking lot. They want to build 6+ stories to within a few feet of my property line. I was not happy with what they presented at the one public meeting they attended, with the way they interacted with the neighbors, with the way they simply refused to answer questions, and with the fact that the few answers they did give have all turned out to be lies.

    Nate – indeed. And I have lived less then a block from that store for almost 19 years now, and just refuse to shop there. Treat your neighbors with contempt, lose that business. Even if they rebuild, I won’t go in there. I will not give them any of my money. Ever. I would LOVE to see it gone. And I mean gone gone gone never to return. Nasty store, nasty corporation, nasty all around.

    Joe was at the public meeting I mentioned, and he is quite correct that it was well attended, and everyone there wanted to talk about Safeway. And he is also quite correct there has not been a SINGLE word about it since, even though periodically in CM Bowser’s newsletter and various city documents I see it discussed as a done deal.

    The fact is that they have been LOUSY neighbors for 20 years now (and according to many of my neighbors, for much longer then that). Now they want zoning variances and neighborhood support and enthusiasm. I’m sorry, but why should I believe that they will be better neighbors in the future? Why should we give them a liquor license when our local businesses can’t get them? Why should we allow them to build to the edges of their property, causing problems for surrounding homes and apartments when it is against zoning regulation?

    The way the Safeway representatives treated me and many other neighbors at that meeting, and the way they have treated me since have made it plain to me that they simply do not give a great goddamn if they have any neighborhood support at all. While I understand and appreciate that businesses exist to make money, and so that will always be their major concern, I also strongly believe that businesses and residents need to have decent relationships in order to sustain a positive neighborhood climate – and that’s something that’s good for business. Their refusal to recognize the responsibilities of corporate citizenship is really short-sighted, and will cause them problems.

  • Sounds like Safeway = “The Man”

  • I was walking at lunch today and ran into Julie Koo, who is the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. I became aquainted with her at an Asian/Pacific Islander Month Celebration. I told her that as a Petworth resident I was very upset about the fact that YES! Organic Market moving into our neighborhood was in jeopardy. She knows Mr. Cha well, and is going to be sending along my information to him and in turn sending me his contact info. Also she asked if we had started a petition. I am fairly new to being involved in civic activism, but I believe strongly in getting quality merchants to invest in our neighborhood. But I was looking for help in perhaps getting the ball rolling on the petition, and then sending the it along to the right people. Contact me directly at [email protected].

  • Sara – a petition to do what? That is, did she give you any direection of what the petition should say, or who it should be addressed to?

  • how did d’vines get their license?

  • saf – I am not sure to be honest. I don’t know if we should try and do a petition to get the law changed (doubtful) or maybe to see if Muriel Bowser will perhaps offer an addendum (is this the appropriate term) to make grocery stores vs. corner stores (i.e. by square footage of retail space) as an exception to the rule. I will e-mail her and ask if she thinks one approach is better than another. I don’t know, any thoughts anyone else has I am more than open to them. What do you think saf?

  • saf- when I said I would e-mail her, I mean Julie Koo, not Muriel Bowser.

  • Ms. Bowser was at Red Derby last night to attend some unnamed “community meeting” though I didn’t have a chance to ask her about Yes! (I was having my own meeting on the patio with several cans of beer).

  • D’vines is in Ward 1 not Ward 4. There is no moritorium in Ward 1.

  • I am a little surprised- I emailed Muriel yesterday and have yet to hear anything in response. I know it’s only been 24 hours, but from what I have heard from other people, she has been responsive. I, for one, would definitely be willing to sign petitions or attend community meetings to ensure that this problem is worked out. It does upset me that the Yes! Organic as a small business wouldn’t be able to buy out a liquor license from a convenience store but Safeway as a giant corporation could. It seems like all this moratorium in Ward 4 does is block commercial progress for the little guys. I would hate to see the new Yes! go somewhere else because our Ward has such outdated policies.

  • I have not heard back from her either. Perhaps PoPs call to arms has overwhelmed her email account!

  • I wonder why ward 1 does not have a moratorium and Ward 4 does?

  • I emailed yesterday — Bowser, Brown, and Schwartz all in one — and did get a reply from Mr. Brown who said he would work with Bowser on this. No word from Ms. Bowser herself, but like someone said, her inbox might be a bit full at the moment. Is this license problem the unintended consequences of good intentions?

  • djdc – look like it. My thought is they put the moratorum in the ward on Class b’s to limit the number of convience stores and bodega’s selling singles, which might have been a good thing when the area was not under redevelopment pressure. Now that it is, the Council is could be in a tough spot. I don’t think they can just grant a waiver for YES and not other convience stores that want to sell beer and wine. My question is, without the moratorium, how easy is it to get a license. Must be pretty easy. Seems like the city could tighten its regulatory process…probably naieve on my part.

  • Yes is not a convenience store. My understanding is that the law defines as seperate entities convenience stores from super markets. In the end, the law currently penalizes the smaller business, locally-owned business like Yes in favor of the large chains for reasons I stated previously.

    This is also a seperate, legal issue from the single-sales issue, by the way. Some, even one of my fellow commissioners on ANC 4C, initially confused the two.

    Reasonable people view this issue differently, and I view the range of opinions with respect. I would like this conversation to stay on a civil and respectful course. I am not a fan of demonizing people whose views differ from my own. It’s alienating, counter-productive and destructive.

    In the end, it seems like it would be a shame to lose the prospect of a quality market coming to Petworth over a policy that I see as overkill. I am hoping that is not the end result.

    In that sense, not only is Yes hurt a little, but so is the neighorhood by being denied a level of service that is the norm across neighboring Ward boundaries. I routinely see my neighbors. longtime residents and new, food-shopping and dining in Ward 5, in Ward 2, in Ward 1 and Ward 3 and in Silver Spring. Gets frustrating.

    By the way, Gary Cha, the owner of Yes, can be reached through his email address:
    [email protected]

    The many favorable emails from Ward 4 a while back is what made him want to open up a market here.

  • Gary Cha, the owner of Yes! Organic Market, emailed me last night to express his deep appreciation for the considerable support he has been receiving for his proposed Petworth supermarket from Petworth and area residents – especially on the more recent issue of his hopes to apply for a Class B beer-and-wine license for the planned Petworth Yes!

    Councilmember Bowser announced today that she has submitted legislation to create an exemption to the Ward-wine ban of supermarket beer-and-wine licenses for Single Member District 4C07, the SMD that includes 4100 Georgia Avenue NW, the location for the prospective Yes! If the legislation becomes law, this will allow Yes to apply for a beer-and-wine license for the Petworth location.

    Thanks, Councilmember, for your instrumental help.

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