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Joe Martin Comments on YES! Organic Market

by Prince Of Petworth July 9, 2008 at 10:42 pm 28 Comments

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.

Competition.

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.

Competition.

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!””

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