Single Sales Testimony

Below is an excerpt from Cary Silverman’s testimony before the Committee on Public Works and the Environment. Cary is the current MVSNA president and at the time Cary was running for the Ward 2 City Council position. He clearly states these are his personal views not those of any organization he is affiliated with. But I am bummed out when I attend MVSNA meetings and he’s not remotely challenging the community to consider the downsides of exemptions. The conversations have been framed to be pro-business.


My testimony today represents my personal views. I am not representing any organization.


I would like to address head on some of the frequent questions and concerns raised as to whether this legislation is needed, as well as its fairness and effectiveness.

  1. Why do we need a single sales ban when the conduct stemming from singles, such aggressive pan handling, littering, public drinking, and public urination, is already illegal?
    Unfortunately, every resident knows that these quality-of-life crimes are very rarely enforced. At best, a passing officer will request that the violator move on. A ban on single sales eliminates a major source of these problems. It is readily enforceable. It will have a real impact. Moreover, it will reduce the need for citizens to repeatedly call 911 for such matters and allow officers to focus on other crimes.

  2. Why not just continue the current practice of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and community associations entering into voluntary agreements with individual stores to prohibit single sales where there is a problem?
    The voluntary agreement process does not work with respect to single sales for three reasons.
    • First, due to the nature of the process, it pits residents against small business owners, which is very unfortunate and strains community relations. It takes neighborhood residents away from their jobs. It requires small business owners to hire lawyers and go to hearings.
    • Second, applying a prohibition to one business but not another two blocks away places the first at a competitive disadvantage. I have watched this play out in Chinatown, where residents have tried to simultaneously negotiate voluntary agreements with three businesses, to little result but a lot of sweat and hearings.
    • Third, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has historically not been receptive to voluntary agreements banning the sale of singles for individual establishments. In some cases, after numerous hearings and status conferences, the best result the ANC is able to obtain from the ABC Board with respect to well-documented problems is a requirement that the licensee package singles in clear plastic bags.

  3. Won’t the market eventually phase out sale of singles as neighborhoods change?
    I do not believe that any community should be subject to the problems associated with the sale of single beverages. Moreover, in any neighborhood, there is a strong incentive to sell singles. They are highly profitable and come with an addicted customer base. The cost is imposed on the surrounding neighborhood.


I would also like to address the scope of the proposed ban. In my view, the prohibition should be enacted citywide and it certainly should include all of Ward 2. There are three reasons why.

  1. It treats small business owners equitably and fairly. Single sales are highly profitable and come with an addicted customer base. Just as voluntary agreements prohibit individual licensees from selling singles place that business at a competitive disadvantage with those nearby, so too do limited bans. As I mentioned, MVSNA is on the border of Wards 2, 5, and 6. A customer could simply walk from Mount Vernon or Chinatown to a corner store on First Street NW or North Capital to buy a single, taking their money elsewhere.
  2. It will place a higher burden on the communities not covered. There is no imaginary wall between stores east and west of 15th Street NW. Should the Ward 2 legislation pass, I would be surprised if some of those who currently drink on 14th Street and 11th Street do not simply walk over to 17th Street or go a few blocks north into Ward 1.
  3. There’s no good reason to exempt certain areas. I would like to ask you, Council Members, to consider the question in this way: If singles were already prohibited in the District, would you have introduced legislation authorizing their sale? Or consider it this way. The District does not permit corner stores to sell individual cigarettes for fifty cents for a multitude of good reasons. Why should the city permit the sale of singles for a dollar? Even if an area currently does not have a single-sale licensee, would it want one? Why are we legislating this issue on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis? Will the combined effect of this year’s legislation effectively create “public drinking zones” in Ward 5 and parts of Wards 1 and 2? Why not cover the entire city?

You can read more on the Cary For Council site including:

Christopher, thanks for your comment. A few thoughts. First, the problem of singles may hit some areas harder than others, which doesn’t mean, in my opinion, that we should legislate in a way that pushes the problem around. Ward 2 has the highest concentration of liquor licenses. Combine that with the fact that Ward 2 and the downtown area also has the greatest concentration of homeless individuals and homeless services. Now throw single sales in the mix.

But Ward 6 also has its share of single sale problems. The Chinatown Market, in Ward 6 just off the Ward 2 border, has been the subject of neighborhood complaints for years for its high volume of single sales and the effects resulting from it.

In another area of Ward 6, residents worked for over a year to obtain a moratorium from the ABC Board from September 2006 until they finally received approval in July 2007 – it took effect this past October. According to the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the area, about 98% of the people he spoke with supported the ban (ed note: link now busted). The Ward 6 moratorium covers 7 blocks between the 700 and 1400 Blocks of H Street NW. In reaching their decision, the ABC Board cited chronic problems with respect to litter, loitering, public drunkenness, public urination and criminal activity. According to his website, Ward 6 Council Member’s position: “A moratorium will go a long way to address some of the chaos and crime afflicting H Street, NE. On top of that, the neighborhood is tired of people using the streets, alleys and treeboxes as public urinals and trashcans. To realize the promise of H Street, this is a necessary step to bring back order and stability and make it a thriving asset for the neighborhood.” DCist did a little poll after the ABC Board approved the H Street moratorium. Only 27% of those who responded supported keeping singles around.

It doesn’t make sense to deal with this problem piecemeal, requiring residents to fight it out establishment by establishment, block by block , neighborhood by neighborhood. There’s little argument to be made in support of single sales of alcohol, just like there’s no good argument for single sales of cigarettes. If singles sales of alcohol were not legal today, could a compelling argument be made for making it legal?

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