B&M Foodmart seeks Single Serve Exemption

B&M Foodmart (215 New York Ave NW) has begun the process to seek an exemption to the Single Serve Moratorium. The Class B licensed establishment is slated to go before both the ANC6C ABL committee and full commission in April. Last night owner Brenda Keys spoke before the MVSNA to seek a community endorsement of her exemption request.

My recap of the MVSNA discussion is below using both my notes and Jeff Parke’s meeting minutes as source material.

Given the floor to state her case Brenda offered the following:

  • Owned the store for 30 years
  • Never had a complaint from the police department or 911 Call
  • Referred to self as the mother, social worker, minister of the neighborhood
  • Claimed that customers don’t loiter in front of the store.
  • Stated that she has sold singles since originally opening and there has never been a problem.
  • Claimed that single sales are critical to her stores survival

The community pressed for more specifics and learned the following:
B&M Foodstore relies on alcohol sales for 40% of their revenue with nearly all of that (35%) business coming from single sales. Brands sold include both midscale beers and low end malt liquors (Owner cited Heineken, Corona, Budweiser, Olde English, Steel Reserve, Milwaukee’s Best, etc..). B&M’s lowest price point for single sales is $1.65.

I also brought up the point that B&M Food Store has an unconventional setup. The entirety of the store is behind a security partition except a small foyer. Customers are not buzzed into the store. Rather the customer must tell the cashier what they would like to buy so that it may be retrieved for them. Keys explained that the store has this setup because she was robbed at gunpoint 10 years ago. While I absolutely concede that personal safety is paramount, I believe the store’s layout may be limiting its viability every bit as much as competition from Safeway or the single sales ban. Shoppers prefer an experience that empowers them to browse the inventory of products and prices unencumbered to make their selection. B&M should consider reorganizing its layout so that only the cashier’s counter is behind a security partition. A lesson from the ongoing eight year singles moratorium in Mt Pleasant is that the ban will force businesses to adapt product inventory and their customer experience rather than cling to the inertia of old business models.

After the questions for Brenda the MVSNA membership delved more into their thoughts on the ban as a whole. Some back and forth on whether the ban is “fair” to small businesses transpired. One board member suggested that the effectiveness of the ban would be undermined if exemptions were extended to the majority of liquor and convenience stores.

The Membership voted to oppose endorsement of the exemption for B&M Food Market. The voting on the resolution to NOT support exemption yielded 8 in favor, 3 in opposition and 4 abstentions. Ultimately ANC 6C will make the one endorsement that carries great weight and B&M will have an opportunity to state their case at their ABRA hearing in April.

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  1. 1

    Anonymous says

    “Never had a 911 call” and “robbed at gunpoint” sound like inconsistent statements to me.

  2. 2

    Anonymous says

    Where do her customers go to drink if not in front of our store? Is it on our homes, parks, etc…?

  3. 3

    PQS says

    I have a lot of sympathy for the store owner. She built a business serving her customer base and then all of a sudden the rug is pulled out from under her. You can argue that her customer base may not consist of upstanding citizens, but in the end, the law is punishing the store owner and not those causing the problem. She will now probably go out of business creating yet another vacant property. Yes, she should adapt to the change in the neighborhood and revamp her business model, but good luck getting a loan to get that done in this market. Give her an exemption long enough for the economy to turn around and to give her the opportunity (and time) to change her business.

  4. 4

    fourthandeye says

    @PQS – A comment I heard at the ANC 6C ABL meeting from a former ABRA employee earlier this month really rang true with me. I shared it at last night’s meeting as a rebuttal to a member who claimed it is unfair to penalize store owners for problems related to public drinking.

    Alcohol is a regulated substance. We regulate which businesses can sell alcohol, what hours it can be sold, what types can be sold, what age a person must be to buy it, etc… Any business owner electing to sell alcohol should understand that regulation is core to the business and not punitive or unfair. The single sales moratorium is just another layer of regulation and one that our citizens lobbied for and our Council passed.

    I see your point about a grace period. However, it’s been evident this legislation has been imminent for over a year. You’d hope a business with this profile would have been working towards making changes to be prepared rather than putting most (or all) of their eggs in the exemption basket.

  5. 5

    Anonymous says

    I find it fascinating that so many people want to protect small liquor and convenience stores from this moratorium due to the financial impact. When restaurants or bars are impacted by external influences no one cares.

  6. 6

    PQS says

    fourthandeye: You make a solid case. I respectfully disagree at points but overall I understand where you're coming from. I'm not familiar with B&M, but I assume they don't have too much flexibility to adapt quickly (to me a year is still quick to adapt when you have limited funds to do so). I know most people disagree with me, but I'm in the camp of the person who rebutted at the meeting. By punishing the vendors you're just putting a band aid on the problem and punishing the wrong group of people. I'm also against the excess regulation of alcohol sales and consumption but that's a debate for another time.

    Anon @ 9:44: You're right, there is a double standard and at times it's not fair. When restaurants and bars are punished by new (and old) regulations, it’s just as unfortunate and I'll be the first person to say so. It just happens that this is case about a liquor store and not a restaurant.

  7. 7

    Chris says

    I realize this will sound very callous but business is about change not comfort zones. Everywhere I’ve ever worked my company was always expected to do better than last year rather than just replicate what we’ve always been doing.

  8. 8

    Anonymous says

    I would say that she should not get an exemption, but the ANC/MVSNA should work to get her a small business loan or grant through SBA, DSLBD, or main streets. That way she can change her business model (or try).

  9. 10

    PQS says

    All good ideas.

    Chris: I don’t think your comment is callous. It’s just a fact of life and ultimately a beneficial fact of life. But this “change” isn’t a gradual change in the market but rather a rule that is suddenly put in place that eliminates 40% of this person’s business. It’s hard to overcome that. Now if she were losing 40% of her business because the community and market is changing, then that’s another thing all together. In that case she should either change with the market or close. That’s not the case here.

  10. 11

    fourthandeye says

    @PQS – I think you are overstating both the suddenness of this ban and the impact.

    Addressing the impact first: I do imagine total receipts from alcohol sales will decline especially in the short term. However while 35% of her sales are singles that does not mean she will lose 35% of her business. There will be residents who are loyal to her store that will begin to purchase 4 packs and 6 packs when singles are no longer an option. Examining the impacts of other already instituted bans bears this out. I can’t pretend I know the percentage but that will happen and it will be a non-trival amount. But of course there will also be some customers that choose to walk 3/10 of a mile to Big Ben and buy Malt Liquor at that Ward 5 store.

    Addressing the suddenness/impact: The writing has been on the wall with regards to this ban for a year or more. While it may take a business more than a year to fully reinvent itself a lot of progress could have been made in a year. Certainly applications for grants and micro-loans could have been initiated. You could argue that even the impending opening of the Safeway (and soon Harris Teeter) should have nudged her in this direction 2+ years ago.

  11. 13

    PQS says

    fourthandeye: Fair enough. You make a good point. It’ll hurt her but probably not as much as I originally suggested.

  12. 14

    Anonymous says

    Anon @07:43 … Her customers drink their singles at the same places that Good Libations drink their singles.

    If you believe Good Libations’s claims then you have to believe hers.

  13. 15

    Anonymous says

    I’m anon 7:43 — I don’t believe the Good Libation’s claims. It certainly is not what I observe in this neighborhood. I just think that there are businesses and individuals that raise a community up and those that don’t. We need to support those businesses that improve the neighborhood and we don’t need to support a skid row economy.

  14. 16

    Anonymous says

    Speaking of Good Libations, did Ronnie attend to support Brenda and show solidarity?