Liquor Moratorium Needs Loosening
May we request a moratorium on, you know, the moratorium?
Meaning, of course, ABRA’s liquor moratorium for Georgetown, which begins at Wisconsin and N Streets and applies to every restaurant within a third-mile radius, and is now up for its five-year renewal later this year. Several weeks ago, the ANC gave its blessing to a renewal, with the recommendation that two more available licenses be issued in order to, as ANC 2E05 Bill Starrels put it, “dampen the bidding wars.”
Such a comment touches on the larger issue at stake: that any restaurant hoping to sell liquor within the heart of Georgetown must bid for a finite resource. Too finite, in our opinion. Currently, new establishments seeking a license must purchase it at a premium from defunct restaurant owners, who may hold onto their license as long as they like until they get the price they want.
You can see where simple economics comes into play. Demand is skyrocketing, while supply remains dismally low, not to mention hoarded for profit. A Georgetown liquor license nowadays goes for $70,000. And insofar that any restaurant larger than a take-out sandwich joint cannot hope to profit without liquor sales, we can expect any prospective eateries to set up shop elsewhere, where they won’t immediately be set back a hundred grand.
Which is a shame. As Ginger Laytham of Clyde’s remarks, “This is not just a restaurant issue, it’s a whole community issue.” We agree. With a struggling retail market that seems to only attract national chains, this neighborhood more than ever needs to facilitate the establishment of locally owned restaurants and bars where Georgetowners, their friends, and visitors alike can gather to socialize and enjoy the cachet unique to this community. While we are sensitive to the notion that establishments selling alcohol may be catalysts for disorderly conduct, we also point out that incidents like the recent Philly Pizza fiasco don’t always require getting liquored up.
Does all this necessitate a complete repeal of the moratorium, or the handing out of licenses carte blanche? No, but we believe the law could do with a bit of curtailing. We urge ABRA and the city council to issue more liquor licenses to Georgetown, and to enact legislation that would lower the value of those already issued — by adding expiration dates for defunct licenses, for instance — so they are less of a cash cow and more of a transferable, affordable resource.