Two drug stores on Connecticut Avenue may be prevented from receiving liquor licenses due to the contested definition of a full service grocery store under Washington, D.C. law.

The CVS Pharmacy at 2601 Connecticut Ave. NW and the Walgreens at 4225 Connecticut Ave. NW are both awaiting approval for a Class B alcohol licenses, which only permit the sale of beer and wine.

A stipulation in local law, however, places a moratorium on the issuance of these licenses in five zones in the city in order to increase economic development. But the moratorium, which was instituted in Glover Park in 2008, includes an exception for full-service grocery stores.

The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration held a hearing Feb. 28 regarding the definition of such a store after the Jan. 14 Omnibus Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Emergency Amendment Act of 2012 required the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to define the term “full service grocery store” within 45 days.

The proposed definition identifies a number of requirements for full-service grocery stores, including a standard that 50 percent of retail space must be dedicated to at least four of five product categories including fresh, uncooked or unprocessed meats or vegetables; breads, cereals or baked goods; dairy products and dry groceries.

The majority of drugstores do not meet this standard, which has generated protest from CVS and Walgreens representatives,
“[Ward 3] Councilmember Mary Cheh, using her political office and influence, inappropriately waged an aggressive campaign to sway this board to reject pending license applications,” CVS attorney Paul Pascal said at the hearing. “Pending applicants should not be penalized, particularly after paying expensive fees, because there has been a political change of heart regarding the scope of the full-service supermarket.”

Walgreens representatives expressed frustration as well.

“In order to be competitive, Walgreens must offer the same one-stop shopping as the chain supermarkets and mass merchants,” Walgreens attorney Rick Conner said during the hearing. “We find the present targeted attack against Walgreens in the form of these proposed regulations so surprising. These proposed regulations are the direct result of our efforts to secure a [Class] B license for our one-year-old store at Connecticut Avenue and Veazey [Terrace].”

Two applications for liquor licenses have been granted to Walgreens in the past, but the Connecticut Avenue Walgreens’ application incited protest last year from neighbors and Cheh.

“It seems clear to me that [Walgreens’] ‘primary business and purpose’ is not the sale of a full range of fresh, canned and frozen food items,” Cheh told the ABCB on Dec. 13, 2012. “Therefore, based on its findings of facts, I believe that the board erred in reaching the legal conclusion that Walgreens could meet the requirements of the grocery store exemption.”

But according to Conner, area residents have voiced little opposition to the stores selling alcohol.

“A mere handful, less than five neighbors, are fighting the license application,” Conner said at the hearing.

There are no current plans, however, for this issue to affect the Georgetown CVS locations at 1403 Wisconsin Ave. NW or 2819 M St. NW. CVS Public Relations Officer Mike DeAngelis wrote in an email that the pharmacy chain was not pursuing licenses at other D.C. stores.

Whether or not the local CVS applies for a license, neighborhood officials say that they will likely not oppose an application.

“Essentially, I have an open mind,” Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E Commissioner Tom Birch said. “I don’t see any reason why should we be closed to that idea.”

Despite the protests from Cheh and others, DeAngelis contended that CVS should be allowed to sell alcohol.

“CVS pharmacy sells liquor in about half of our stores chain-wide for the convenience of customers who choose to purchase it,” DeAngelis wrote. “We have an excellent reputation as a responsible seller of alcohol with firm policies and procedures in place to prevent minors from purchasing it.”

The ABCB is currently considering the testimony and has not yet rendered a decision, according toABRA Public Information Officer William Hager.

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