August 18, 2017 at 7:55 am EDT | by Mark Lee
Dupont Circle’s silly ‘Safeway siege’ stupefies a city
Cairo Liquors, gay news, Washington Blade, Safeway

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

They keep doing it to themselves in D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood. It’s difficult to decide whether to laugh out loud or ply a pitying frown.

In recent weeks there’s been quite a bit of eye-rolling and head-shaking by residents in the adjacent Logan Circle area, and across the entire city, in response to the latest crazy crusade launched by Dupont denizens.

Coordinated by a long-unpopular and notorious band of usual suspects with a business-and-booze-battling legacy, a small group has busied themselves with organizing an effort to oppose approval of a beer and wine sales license for the Safeway on the 17th Street commercial strip. They’ve even got T-shirts and campaign signs emblazoned with their slogan, “Food Not Booze! at Safeway.”

Accustomed to robust offerings of both products at the nearby Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s outlets in Logan Circle and at groceries citywide, the vast majority of residents in the neighborhood and nearby are scratching their heads in stupefied reaction to the fuss.

The objectors raise all manner of unrelated complaints. They fret about the Safeway seafood selection, the freshness of produce, the variety of products, and the always dreary and detached service complacency proffered patrons – by labor union members comprising the “closed-shop” workforce. The latter applicable philosophical lesson and parallel political irony eludes them.

They claim to be combating “corporate greed” – so much so that Washington City Paper reporter Andrew Giambrone last week dubbed them “a cohort of anti-capitalist objectors.”

What’s worse, though, is that the owners of the next-door Cairo Liquors are helping spearhead the campaign by almost single-handedly collecting signatures on petitions in opposition to Safeway’s beer and wine sales licensing application. It’s an astonishingly transparent attempt at preferential “rent-seeking” through imposition of a nakedly self-serving regulatory prohibition to preclude market competition.

The licensing opponents brazenly call for protectionist marketplace manipulation to advantage retail liquor-selling businesses fearful of consumer choice and convenience or customer-benefiting price and product competition. Those are, in fact, what the majority of local residents value and prefer and which has not harmed standalone liquor stores that are standout retail trademarks of other neighborhoods.

All of these objector arguments are, in reality, irrelevant to the pending review of Safeway’s application by the city’s alcohol licensing board. They are completely meaningless in determining whether Safeway can be denied a beer and wine sales license as a qualifying full-service grocery store. The imbroglio only serves to brand Dupont as again combating commerce.

Once the iconic center of Washington’s gay community and a then-bustling destination neighborhood, the area earned a reputation as unfriendly to business and uninterested in development. Nearly 30 years ago the same agitators successfully sought not one, but two, of the city’s handful of liquor license moratoriums. The area suffered under that crude intervention, despite recent modifications to lessen the harm, as businesses shifted to other areas.

On Monday the Dupont Circle advisory neighborhood commission held a “town hall” on Safeway’s application. About 40 people showed up, almost exclusively the familiar faces that have long fought alcohol licensing and business development – and who generally comprise those attending the commission’s regular meetings.

The participant demographic at the forum skewed decidedly older. Dupont ANC vice-chair Daniel Warwick took to Twitter during the meeting to note that the median age of Dupont Circle residents is 34, while the age of those attending the commission’s meetings – including the special session that evening – is much older.

Warwick publicly pondered how to broaden interest in commission meetings. One suggestion would be to stop coddling the small gaggle of serial objectors. Not every ridiculous restriction or proposed prohibition warrants an ANC-hosted whine-fest. Aligning with them, and allowing them to dictate community discussions, harms the commission’s public perception.

After all, Safeway could choose to close eventually and leave Dupont residents sourcing victuals where beer and wine is sold alongside groceries.

The rest of the city wouldn’t be surprised.


Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at


  • Mark Lee certainly complains about everything the District government is trying to do, but never seems to consider lifting any of his own fingers to help.

    Say what you want about Donald Trump, but at least he had the guts to run for President.

    ‘Time to put up or shut up. If Trump can do it, so can Mark Lee.

  • It bothers me that both Warwick and Lee use ageism as a way to marginalize the “long-unpopular and notorious band of usual suspects” (with whom I disagree by the way). At minimum the gentlemen could have put their money where their mouths are and explain why the age disparity is an issue with them, but I suppose cowardly is as cowardly does. And It’s an observation the basis for which I don’t really understand. All one has to do is wander down 17th St any night and see people in their 50s and 60s enjoying the bars and restaurants; not just those in their 20 and 30s. If LGBT media like the Blade aim to dedicate itself to exposing racism, sexism, transphobia, religious intolerance, and homophobia in our community; it damages its credibility when it so readily contributes to the outdated stereotype that the elderly are just out to spoil everyone’s fun.

  • Since I get all of my knowledge of economics from progressive sources, I have never heard of “rent-seeking,” but I’m sure it’s a teabagger myth. It’s clear that if a business can exploit regulations to hamstring potential competition, the solution is more regulations.

  • DCCA and the Dupont whine fest organizers can finally enjoy the “peace and quiet” of their neighborhood. With the exception of a few places, no one goes to their empty store fronts or tired restaurants. The city has moved past them. They’re lucky that a few hearty businesses have stayed behind (i.e. Hank’s, Komi, Safeway, etc), which they also fought. The same DCCA leadership continues to harp about the same issue under the pretense of “improving the neighborhood”. If they focused the same amount of energy and effort into beautification of the neighborhood, Dupont would be a freaking Shagrai-La. Stop funding this organization!! It’s a cancer on the neighborhood.

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2020. All rights reserved.